Posts Tagged ‘Church’

I personally want to invite you to be part of the church….

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

This time of year, many of us consider change.  What do we vaguely sense wanting to be born in our lives? Empowered by the simple acceptance of choice come 2019,  what do we want the year ahead to look? Some will consider “church” as part of the hoped-for changes in the year ahead.  That is the person I want to speak to. That is the person I want to invite to this church.

Fr. Richard Rohr captures the invitation so well…

I invite you to sink your roots deep in one place, in one particular tradition, even as you explore the wealth of wisdom to be found in other places. Otherwise you will get trapped in individualism and private superiority without any real testing laboratory in the ways of faith, hope, and practical love. Outside of a concrete community of relationships, you can imagine you are much more enlightened than you really are. Whatever tradition you claim, be open to letting it change you even as you challenge your church or community to also grow in maturity.  Fr. Richard Rohr

So why take up the invitation?

Church will change how you view connection

As Dorothy Day famously said, “We have all known the long loneliness.” Loneliness … a universal human experience. And we know as well, “… that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

We learn here about love, community and connection in a very different way.  Most of our relationships grow out of a relatively confined, narrow demographic band. But in church, the edges of that band expand. It expands, with love, across lines of race, age and socioeconomic status. Church, at its best, eliminates “they” or “them.” It becomes about “us.”

We will, over time, and with the difficult work of stretching our edges, come to know and yes, even to love, people well outside of whatever normal box we tend to traditionally pull our friends from.  And the enrichment in that place is so hard to capture to words

Maybe that is because church creates a new center, a “this-is-what-we-are-for” not commonly found in our broader culture. That is the beauty of New Church Christianity, a faith that at its best, asks us to of course harbor our own individual lives but at the same time to look out, to find brothers and sisters in a new kinship.

Join here and over the years you will make friends from backgrounds totally new to your experience. They will enrich your life in ways too vast to list. You will be better for knowing “them” and in creating a new “us.”

Church will change how you view service

We often confuse activity with effectiveness. We often conflate an opinion with an action. That is not church.

Church instead moves towards a grounded doing, towards a lived moral experience. A simple example: church is more than holding forth on the challenges of addiction. Church instead moves towards working with addicts. Just fill in the blank with cancer, domestic abuse, at-risk teens, foster children, homelessness etc… and you have what churches do.

Join here, and you will go to parts of Philly you have never traveled to before. You will work with others struggling with hope and at times despair through challenges beyond what you have experienced.

You will find in those places good people. Amazing people holding out as beacons of hope in the midst of great struggle. You will leave those places humbled to your core and knowing God in a new way.

Church will change how you see God.

What if this … what if the ultimate reality of life is that life is good and that love is the very foundation of it all. What if our role was to push our selfishness aside and, in the moment of self-forgetting, remember again what is ultimately true, what ultimately matters, what ultimately lasts?

What if God stands on our side?

Join here, and that is what you will hear preached and what you will see lived. You will not hear of a vindictive God, bent on wrath, a threatening “not one step more” God. You will hear of God’s love, of its “no matter what’ness.” You will hear of our need to do our work.

We don’t believe it is, to use a baseball analogy, the bottom of 9th with eternity hanging in the balance. We believe it is top of the 1st actually – and always will be – as we welcome the amazing opportunities in front of us to serve.

The Fine Print Is This

The fine print is simple. Church takes sacrifice, remembering that “to sacrifice” means “to make sacred.” So it takes a willing heart. It takes time. It is not a consumer activity nor is rewarding in the short term.

We are not a special club. We are not here for entertainment.  We are not here just for the weddings or funerals. We are here because we believe deeply in a way of life where we follow, in our own imperfect and halting way, Jesus’ model of how to live with an eye towards others and to the greatest God-given truths known to mankind.

Give the year ahead to church.

 

 

It will change your mind about what you value

Imagining Faithfully Together

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

I remain more and more convinced that there is no such things as private salvation.  The oxymoron of the “self-made man or woman” is indeed a oxymoron.  Salvation only occurs together.

The word “together” calls us out of privatized faith.  The meta-narrative of scripture paints a clear and lucid picture of “together.” The Old Testament centers on a tribe.  The New Testament centers on disciples.  The epistles center on the church.  New Church theology centers on community.

There is of course private work.  And there is of course public work.  The inner and the outer.  But both the inner and the outer still lie under the umbrella of “together.”

And imagine this… imagine we could hold church not as something we individually do or experience or celebrate.  But if instead we could hold church as something of necessity we must do together as a tribe, as disciples, as a church, as community.

No one experiences heaven alone.

That is a very good thing!

Convenience is not Happiness

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

“Convenience is not happiness”  Many of you emailed or talked about that concept after Sunday’s service.  And it is big one!

One email especially struck me.  It was from a dad with 3 small children.

I think there is going to be a problem with children who have been afforded on-demand TV to watch a favorite show or any song they want on iTunes.

I agree.  And therein lies a challenge.

The challenge is this I imagine.  We as adults have a foot in a passing world that was far less “convenient.”  Even play took time.  I grew up building damns across small streams, constructing hay forts with buddies, riding bikes, camping.  I even remember saving for months to purchases a prized b-b gun on lay-away.  Nothing “convenient” there.

Our children are coming of age largely outside of that paradigm.   They are raised within a simple and incessant message that convenience is the name of the game.

Maybe that is why churches often struggle in this day and age.  Putting aside the obvious truth that some of the struggles are of our own making, maybe another key to understanding the decline in churches in North America is that church simply is not convenient.

Church, at its best, asks of people to commit to the inconvenience of embracing a larger hope.

That struck me last night.  There is a monthly group at NCL made up of Dads in the Congregation.  In the final round, where everyone takes a turn offering a last word or reflection, one of the dads in the group simply said “I love you guys.”

His reflection came at the end of a group of guys, gathered in a circle, simply offering the gift of listening generously to one another for an hour and half.

Nothing “convenient” about it.  And nothing could bring more happiness.

Will our children ever know that slower, 90-minutes-in-a-circle world and the beauty of slowness it embraces?  I don’t know.

But as a church we must certainly try.

The Quietness of Faith

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

Faith is a quiet, important endeavor.

It matters in this slow, deep way of a silent companion… a choice to do important work.

Important work is easily dismissed by the audience. It involves change and risk and thought.

Popular work resonates with the people who already like what you do.

Viral work is what happens when the audience can’t stop talking about what you did.

Every once in awhile, all three things will co-exist, but odds are, you’re going to need to choose.

Seth Godin

Solving Problems vs. the Search for Scapegoats

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

I loved a recent article by Kelly Oliver. In that article she shared a significant point…

… outrage, censoring and public shaming has begun to replace critique, disagreement and debate.

Much of that outrage, censoring and public shaming stems from a human propensity to scapegoat vs. a disciplined dedication to solving problems.  I might capture the scapegoating view this way, “If the problem is “out there”, my only option, given I can do nothing about it, is outrage.”

And yet, as Christians, we are asked to engage.  The whole concept of “incarnation” is based on engagement, on the spiritual joined to the natural, realized in the here and now, “As in heaven, so upon the earth.”

For those in the New Church, that embodiment runs from the high and mighty endeavors of our lives to the mundane and simple.  Integrity.

Maybe this… maybe we are here, as a church, to be a place where we can recapture a sober yet powerful approach to solving problems.  Doing so of course means embracing the discomfort of “critique, disagreement, and debate.”  And it means also embracing this simple Swedenborgian concept … that love in action is what remains.  Somehow those two combine … the work AND the hope.

Nothing easy there.  But it sure beats scapegoating where nothing happens because the fault always outside our power to be agents of change as God gives us to see it.

What can you do?  Join us.  That simple.

More Than Just Nice

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

The journey of church and spirituality is long.  As one author phrased it…

Eventually there comes a gathering discontent and a quiet, inner disappointment.  Leaders look up and find themselves somehow stuck in the same routine of mediocre niceness that never seems to get to the radical drama, adventure, desperate passion, and glorious power depicted in the Scripture.  Earnest, gifted, mature Christians – we feel like we are all dressed up with nowhere to go.

A beautiful line.

And how then do we continue to move beyond “mediocre niceness”?

To answer the question, as a Pastor, it seems an immense difference in calling to say we are to be the church vs. we are to build a church.

To be the church pushes us, edges us forward.  Pushes us beyond the comforts of  Sunday.  Anchors us “out there.”  Builds clarity around God’s words, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”   Builds movement.  Grows a missional awareness both for individuals and for the corporate church.

And on gaining clarity about what it is to be the church, it comes back around, and we have a far clearer idea how to build a church, a church now more than just nice but actually courageous!

 

 

Church in North America is Changing Much Faster Than We Think

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Church in North America is changing much faster than we think.

And there are two common, understandable reactions to change…

  1. A withdrawal, a fatigue sets in and we quit
  2. A panic, a fear sets in and we double down seeking to rediscover the illusive golden era, to return to how things were in the face of challenges around how things are.
Neither works terribly well.
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And an uncomfortable truth here …. there are beautiful opportunities ahead of us but those opportunities will be cut short if we – and here I speak mostly to religious professionals – continue to see our only options as #1 or #2, in other words, if we continue to see our only options as being to quit or to be angry.   
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There are many other options beyond apathy or anger, and they seem to come down to this …. love those in front of us as best we can in our own flawed ways, creating communities that God would recognize, and believe what we know to be true… that something new is forever being born.  Slowly.  Painfully.  And filled with new life.
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Pray for the eyes to see it and you will see it everywhere!
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Sometimes, we need to take a deep breath and decide to do it again, better

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

The numbers at NewChurch LIVE over the past 8 years….

These numbers are tremendously good.  They demonstrate growth.  A congregation willing to reach out.  The average church in the US draws 75 Sunday worshippers, a number we are well above.

And with those successes, we need to find ways to increase growth.  There is both a practical/ budgetary aspect to growth as well as an overwhelming call to our mission and that combination means finding ways to serve more people in the year ahead.

To accelerate growth…

  1. Summer: We are scaling back certain aspects of our Sunday services in order to free up more resources for connection with new parishioners.  That is part and parcel of the “Coffee Shop” approach.   Much of that scaling back on Sundays will continue into the school year.  Again the hope is to place more resources on connection versus the Sunday service.
  2. Calendaring: We are working hard to integrate our calendar more so that all the many things we offer are better organized
  3. Attendance: Our stress will be on in person attendance, holding that as the primary driver of growth in all the arenas we serve.  Our hope is to increase our in-person adult attendance at MPAC to 200.
  4. Volunteering: We will be stressing volunteering this fall.  We are BLESSED in this regard with a congregation that consistently steps up!
My personal goal is to increase our growth rate from 4.4% to 20%.
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For some, growth is understandably a concern.  A myopic focus on growth can distract from our mission of service.  We certainly are going to work hard to balance the practical need for growth with the mission of NCL.
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Sometimes, we need to take a deep breath and decide to do it again, better.

When Small Congregations Start To LiveStream….

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

We have effectively LiveStreamed for about 5 years.

NewChurch LIVE launched 8 years ago.  Since them the technology progressed by leaps and bounds to the point where it is close to 100% reliable … quite a sea change from when we started.

And as the technology has really come into its own, we have definitely learned some lessons worth sharing.

How You Plan Has To Change

  1. Planning has to be more “in the round”, taking in more voices.  We do that via a sermon writing team that meets once a week, logistically planning a service two weeks out.
  2. Macro planning has to begin further upstream.  A simple example… there are wonderful graphics and video resources out there but they are most fruitfully employed when we have time to find, categorize, and employ them.  Our sermon calendar then is usually planned 6 months out.
  3. Three of my favorite planning resources: Life Church, wimp.com, Wingclips

How You Market Has To Change

  1. We use social media to market.
  2. Some tools that have worked well: Creating Facebook “Events”, creating short trailers, many of which are freebees that we simply add our graphic to, as well as using Facebook “Live” the morning of a service

How You Preach Has To Change

  1. You can’t move as much.  We use three carpets on stage that are “pre-sighted” for cameras and lighting
  2. You have to use graphics.  We “switch” constantly between the pastor, text slides, videos, photographs etc….
  3. Engage your audience through welcoming them to text during the service

How People “Consume” Will Change

  1. Your online audience will quickly rival your in-person audience
  2. Most will watch on their phones or phones “mirrored” to a TV so I recommend getting an “app“.
  3. Some will watch Sunday.  Others will watch/ listen during the week.
  4. The downside: Our in-person attendance stagnated while our online grew. Also, many young families prefer the LiveStream because they don’t have to battle their kids to get them to church so expect your Sunday School program to decline.

Regardless of your size, you are already an online congregation.  Before someone visits, they have checked you out online.  Listened/ viewed something.  LiveStreaming is a logical next step.

LiveStreaming is not a panacea.  It solves some issues and creates others.  And the digital frontier is an area where we need to be present.

How do you find the right church?

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Not everyone searches longingly for the right church.  But if you are searching for the right church ….

There is no such thing!

Joining a church, as Rachel Held Evans put it, entails choosing “which hot mess you want to get involved in.”

Churches are a hot mess, no way around it.  And how could churches not be? Dedicated to higher purposes, churches will draw a far wider swath of humanity than we, in our little way, would ever see fit to call together.  Mixed races, mixed families, mixed financial situations, mixed perspectives … mixed up.  That encompasses “church.”

Church is simply not an idealized tribe.

Church is a collection of people – blessed and broken – doing their level best to love others, however imperfectly, and find God one flawed step at a time.

Find a church that gets that … and loves despite that … and lives towards higher purposes in light of that … and maybe that becomes the right church?

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