Creative Ministries

creative-ministry

There is a ministry that the church my wife and I currently serve started in earnest a few months ago. In fact, it’s not just a ministry the church does, it’s a ministry that my wife started and oversees. It is the Visitor’s Bag ministry. We had in place ways to follow-up on first-time visitors. But we really weren’t offering them much up front- the day they first walk in the door. But we have remedied that situation!

There are LOTS of things that churches give first-time visitors. Coffee mugs are a very popular item. The first church we served delivered an apple pie to visitors…at their home, later in the day that they visited. (Several people commented positively on that, in fact!) We wanted to give them something that would last- that left out the apple pie. My take on the coffee mug is that it becomes one more coffee mug that people either get rid of or put in a box. We wanted something that they might actually continue to use…thereby keeping the church in front of them, so to speak.

So, back in early August, my wife designed the Visitor’s Bag. It is a reusable shopping bag that is all-black with red letters. It has basic information about the church printed on the sides- name, address, phone, web address and Mission Statement.

In the bag is a variety of things. There is a plate of cookies, personally made by someone in the church. There is a loaf of artisan bread, compliments of the vanload of baked goods we get donated to us by a local grocery store chain very Saturday. There are three brochures- one about worship and Christian Education opportunities, one about Youth and Children’s ministries and one about opportunities for mission and service. There is a copy of my business card with a personal note from me attached. There is a refrigerator magnet with some basic info about the church on it. And there are two Prayer Stone packets. Each packet includes a Prayer Stone- a small, round, glass “stone”- and a paper that explains the idea behind the stones.

The Visitor Bag ministry has been up and running for just about over 2 months. And in those relatively few weeks…we have given out about 100 bags! 100 bags! And when I saw “we have…”, what I really mean is “my wife has…” I mean, a few bags have been given out by others. But for the most part. It has been her baby!

The bags have to be prepared either sometime Saturday or on Sunday morning, since they have perishable food in them. And since we never really know how many to make, it’s a guessing game every week. Some weeks, we have to unpack the unused bags after church so that the cookies and bread don’t go bad. And other days, like yesterday, we didn’t make enough and my wife is scrambling to make more during Sunday morning events!

In the end, they are a decent amount of work to maintain. But they also have a very positive impact on those who receive them. The feedback is consistently positive. They get good bread. They get delicious cookies. They get some hands-on material that helps them learn more about the church. And they get the bag, which is VERY reusable!

Would it be easier to just not mess with all of that? Yep! In fact, it would be easier to just not mess with a WHOLE lot of things that this church does. But we exist to connect people to Jesus Christ. And that means we step out in faith and look for creative ways to reach out to others in His name!

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Glory Days: Circle Jericho

glory-days-circle-jericho

The pastor wanted to get a feel for his new church. He visited the children’s Sunday school class to see what the kids knew. The teacher said, “Pastor, this morning we’re learning about Jericho. The pastor said, “Well, let’s see what you’ve learned. Who tore down the walls of Jericho?” For a few moments, no one spoke. Then little Billy shyly raised his hand, “Pastor, I didn’t do it.” Surprised by the response, the pastor asked, “Come on now kids, who tore down the walls of Jericho?” The teacher spoke up, “Pastor, Billy’s a good boy. If he says he didn’t do it, I believe he didn’t do it.” Flustered, the pastor went to the Sunday school superintendent and told her the story. The superintendent listened intently, then said, “Well, Pastor, we’ve had some problems with Billy before. Let me talk to him and see what we can do.” The pastor was nearly beside himself by this point, frustrated with how little anybody seemed to know about the Bible. He decided to go straight to the leaders of the church- surely THEY would know the story. He told them the whole thing and then waited for their response. A white-haired gentleman thoughtfully stroked his chin and said, “Well, Pastor, I think I understand the problem. I understand your concern.” The pastor breathed a little sigh of relief, “Thank goodness.” The elderly man went on, “Yes, we’ll take care of this. I move we take money out of the General Fund and pay for those walls to be fixed! Let’s just get it done”

Today, we continue our current sermon series- Glory Days. Based on the book by Max Lucado, we are focusing on a concept he describes as living your Promised Land life…now. When we face challenges that are bigger than we can handle, a GREAT place to go for hope and inspiration is the Old Testament story of Joshua. So we’re walking through that book, focusing on how Joshua led the Hebrews out of the wilderness and into the land of Canaan- the Promised Land.

The first week, we focused on WHEN the Glory Days are…and we stated that they are NOW! Last week, we looked at the fact that, since they ARE now, we have a responsibility to accept our inheritance. Today, we move forward, right to the walls themselves. We face our fears as we Circle Jericho.

The Hebrew people have crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land. But there is STILL much to do. God sends them to the walled city of Jericho. And He gives them a seemingly impossible task.

     Joshua 6:1-5 Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”

What do you know about the walls of Jericho? According to Veggie Tales, they were guarded by French Peas who threw Slushees down on the unsuspecting Hebrews! I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that’s not exactly how it went! . The walls were immense. They wrapped around the city of Jericho like a suit of armor. Imagine 2 concentric circles of stone 40′ high. Imagine formidable. Imagine impenetrable. The people inside the walls were much the same- ferocious and barbaric. They and their impressive walls had withstood all sieges, repelled all invaders. They were undefeated…that is, until Joshua and his people showed up.

The gates of Jericho were securely barred- they were shut and locked. In fact, we are told that no one was going out…and no one was getting in. Clearly they didn’t want to let anybody in. But the fact that they also weren’t letting anybody out shows that the people of Jericho saw this as a serious, potentially desperate situation.

Then God says something that is THE most important thing said throughout this story. He says, “I have delivered Jericho into your hands.” All you teachers out there- did you notice the verb tense? It wasn’t, “I am GOING to deliver…” It wasn’t, “I AM delivering…” It was, “I have ALREADY delivered…” Past tense. Already done. God has already done the heavy lifting. All the Hebrews have to do is be faithful to what God is calling them.

But the Hebrews aren’t stupid- they KNOW that defeating a walled city is a major challenge. There are basically five ways to capture a walled city:

  1. go OVER the wall with ladders, ramps and such
  2. go UNDER the wall by digging a tunnel
  3. go THROUGH the wall by smashing a hole in it
  4. lay siege to the city and starve them into submission
  5. use some kind of trickery, like the Trojan Horse

They KNOW those truths. They understand them. And they really aren’t capable of ANY of them! So how are they going to win? They are going to march around the city once a day for six days and then 7 times on the 7th day, The trumpets will blow and the walls? They’ll come a’tumbin’ down! Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!

But let’s be honest- “march around the city for several days” isn’t the best military advice ever given. It really doesn’t make…well…ANY sense. I mean, who in their right mind would actually DO that? Apparently, the Hebrews would. It required faith and trust. They had to believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that  God would keep His promise and deliver the city to them.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t read this passage without the number 7 standing out to me. 7 days of walking. 7 times around the wall on day 7. 7 priests blowing 7 trumpets. 7 must be pretty important to this story. Well…it is. Biblically, theologically, 7 is seen as a perfect number- the number of completion. It appears 860 times in the Bible- 54 times in the book of Revelation alone. According to Jewish tradition, Adam was created on the 7th day of the 7th month.  There are 7 days in a week and the Sabbath is on the 7th day. The Bible is divided into 7 major sections. Jesus said we should forgive someone 70 X 7 times. It’s an important number! The remarkable collection of sevens in this story underscores the sacred significance of the event.

In the end, the people marched and the trumpets blew. Notice God told the people to keep quiet. In other words, no chitchat, no opinion giving, no second guessing, no whining. No complaining. Just be quiet and let the trumpets sound.  And when they did…the walls came down. Bricks cracked. Stone fractured. Everything shook—the walls, the ground…and the knees of the Jericho soldiers. The impenetrable fortress met the unstoppable force. Mighty Jericho crumbled.

Remember- the Hebrews have surrounded the city. And when the walls come down, they ALL go STRAIGHT in. This wasn’t just a minor wall failure in an isolated spot. Not a breach here and there. This was a catastrophic and complete failure of the wall, giving access to the city from all sides.

But the truth of the matter is this- Joshua and his people did NOT bring those walls down. The Hebrews never swung a hammer. They never fired a trebuchet. They never used siege weapons to break down the gates. In the grand scheme of things..they didn’t do ANYTHING…except follow God. God came through in a BIG way for the Hebrew people. AND…God is willing- anxious- to come through in a BIG way for you.

The question isn’t CAN you overcome? The question is WILL you overcome? Life always offers challenges, but God always gives you the strength to overcome them. God didn’t say, “Joshua, take the city.” He said, “Joshua, receive the city I’ve already taken.” Joshua didn’t go forth hoping to win. He went forth knowing that God had already won. And the same can be true about you. God doesn’t say, “Break your bad habit.” He says, “I’ve already broken the bad habits of your life. Receive the blessing of my victory.”

What is your Jericho? Is it your fears? Is it your bitterness? Your prejudice? Your insecurity? Your guilt? Your negativity, anxiety, critical nature? Your Jericho is ANY attitude or mind-set that keeps you from joy and peace. Jericho is what stands between you and your Glory Days. It’s that thing that mocks you, tells you to take your dreams back to the wilderness where they belong. It’s big. It blocks your way…and it HAS to come down.

The taking of Jericho- no hand-to-hand combat? No flashing swords? No flying spears, battering rams, catapults? Just march, be quiet and watch…then yell? What kind of warfare is this? I’ll tell you what kind of warfare that is- spiritual warfare. Satan isn’t passive. He’s not fair. He’s active and he’s deceptive. And he’s always looking for a foothold- a stronghold. He’s always trying to eclipse our greater discovery of God. He tries to magnify problems and minimize God. But the ONLY authority the devil has over your life is what you’re willing to let him have- no more, no less. Tell the devil “NO” and watch him run. He WILL retreat. Remind him that he’s not allowed in God’s house. And the New Testament is clear- YOU are God’s house.

To fully live in the Promised Land, you have to face your Jericho. It’s not easy. Satan doesn’t give up without a fight. He WILL push back. But he WON’T win…unless you let him. Like my childhood cat Charlie, Satan was declawed at the cross of Calvary. He has NO authority over you.

Are there days when you see nothing but Jericho? Are there times when despair seems to be the order of the day? Do you sometimes feel defeated? Do you ever dwell on the word “impossible”? Do negatives rule your thinking? “God could never forgive me.” “I couldn’t possible forgive that person.” “Bad things always happen to me.” “I don’t deserve to be loved.” “I’ll never recover from this.” Today’s problem doesn’t have to be tomorrow’s problem. It’s not God’s will that you live an unhappy, dreary, defeated life. Quit listening to the old voices and start listening to the new ones. It’s time to stop living out of your circumstances and start living out of your inheritance. You can watch your strongholds be demolished, reduced to rubble once and for all.

You can see Jericho leveled. “How?”, you might ask? By keeping God in the center, by making sure the main thing is the Main Thing. Notice what preceded the people as they marched around Jericho- the Ark of the Covenant…the dwelling place of God. Everything centered around Him.

Maybe you’re thinking, “I’ve been fighting this battle for a long time and I don’t seem to be getting anywhere.” I get that. It must have seemed like that to the Hebrews, too. God told Joshua how many days of walking around the city it would take. But Joshua didn’t tell the people. They just kept walking…and wondering. But they kept walking.

Keep walking. You never know- this might be the day your walls come a tumblin’ down. You might be only a few steps away from victory. The trumpets sounded. The walls fell. And the people took the city. The walls that had kept them out now became stepping-stones into the Glory Days.

We so easily live within the joy-sucking walls of Jericho. But I just stopped by this morning to tell you that you don’t have to do that ANY more. You may feel beyond inadequate, but you have a power at your fingertips that cannot be beat- you have God.

For 6 days, the people of God marched around the city of Jericho. On the seventh day, when God called them to march around the city 7 times, some of them must have thought, “You have GOT to be kidding! This is ridiculous!” But they did it anyway. And you know the rest of the story- the walls came down!

How many times have you marched for 6 days…only to give up just short of the finish line? Victory might only be one more march away. If you’ve given up on something that God called you to do because you were tired, consider taking another run at it. Reengage God’s plan for you. Start marching again.

If you want to see your Jericho fall, you have to stop labeling yourself. You have to stop listening to the lies. You have to stop believing there’s no hope for a new beginning. Come to the walls of YOUR Jericho in God’s power. Put God center stage, with Jesus at His right hand…and in your heart. Come NOT with hope of a possible victory but with assurance of a complete victory. Blast your ram’s horn. Blow your silver trumpet. March like a Promised Land conqueror. What would it take for you to start marching again? Will you start? Today? Keep marching- this just might be the day the walls come down.

It’s THAT Time Again!

trunk-or-treat

It’s almost here. As you read this, the event is only about 48 hours away. This will be the 5th year the church my family currently serves has done it. And NOT coincidentally- the 5th fall we’ve BEEN at this church. If you counted ahead 48 hours from now, you might well have figured out what I’m talking about. If not- Trunk or Treat.

Monday evening- Halloween night- somewhere around 25 cars (the most we’ve had) will line both sides of the street alongside the church. A full-sized pickup truck towing a fishing boat will block off one end of the street while…SOME VEHICLE…will block off the other end. Many of the people who bring cars will also decorate those cars AND dress up somehow. But we make it clear- that is NOT a requirement in order to be able to bring your car. Undecorated cars manned by “undecorated” people who are friendly, welcoming and handing out candy is  JUST fine!

There will also be other church folks running around doing a myriad of things. There will be folks with HUGE bowls of candy on carts going to the cars to replenish. There will be Youth doing a myriad of things- often face-painting is a part of that! And there will be folks cooking and serving hot dogs. We started offering free hot dogs a few years ago. Last year, we gave 500 of them away! (Yes, you read that number correctly!) The United Methodist Men set up a grill under an awning and cook, cook, cook! In addition, bottled water will be handed out. Last year, we gave away about 300 bottles. We might well exceed that number this year.

Given the way we do Trunk or Treat, there is really NO way to know how many people came. But we know we gave away 500 hot dogs. And we know we gave away…ready?…17,000 pieces of candy! (Again, yes- you read that number correctly!) Given all of that, a conservative estimate would put the attendance somewhere north of 700 people. In 2 hours! Amazing.

Now, I am FULLY aware that there are folks who think the LAST thing a church should do is embrace Halloween in ANY form. And I understand that. I really do. Clearly, I don’t AGREE, but I understand. But here’s my thought on the whole thing: the community is GOING to celebrate Halloween. Period. End of sentence. Mic drop. They are and we all know they are, regardless of what we think and regardless of what we do.

Given that as a starting point, the Church has a choice to make- find a way to reach out to the community you serve through this “holiday” or just get a little more irrelevant than you were yesterday. And I realize that sounds harsh- I mean no offense. But the American Christian Church struggles more and more with being completely irrelevant. As every day goes by, more churches slide farther and farther away from the people they are supposed to be reaching out to. The gulf just grows wider and our level or irrelevance grows as well. For a LOT of people “out there”, church just simply doesn’t matter- it has nothing relevant to do or say.

And a large part of the reason people think that is because the Church refuses to think outside the box and imagine new ways to reach people for Jesus Christ. What worked 50 years ago simply doesn’t work today. Look at it this way- there is NO facet of your life that is the same now as it was 50 years ago. Or 40 years ago. 30 years ago. 20 years. 10 years. Shoot, even 5 years in many case. Nothing. So why do we try so hard to insist that, in the midst of a changing world, the church should simply remain the same. Doesn’t make sense…and doesn’t work.

So Monday night, we will put our best foot forward, offer a TON of candy, a BUNCH of hot dogs and a LOT of bottled water. Oh yeah, and while we’re at it, we’ll offer some good ol’ hospitality, care and friendship. We won’t judge those who come. We’ll just be the most gracious hosts we can be and then thank them for coming! And really, isn’t that what the Gospels compel us to do..anyway?!

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

I LOVE the Smell of Burnt Fries in the Morning!

burnt-fries

A buddy of mine once went to a well-known fast food establishment for lunch. (The name of the restaurant shall remain nameless…but its initials are McD!) He went to the counter, ordered his food, paid, and waited. In a minute or two, they slid a tray to him and said, “Here’s your sandwich. We’ll bring your fries out in a minute, when they’re done.” He took his tray and headed for a table, stopping to get his drink, pick up napkins and fill the ubiquitous portion cups with catsup. By the time he was seated and had the straw unwrapped and in his drink, here came an employee with a tray. As he placed it on the table, he said (and I quote), “Here are your fries. I burnt them…so I gave you extra!” Never at a loss for words, my buddy looked him in the eye and replied, “Well…if there’s anything I like better than burnt fries…it’s lots of them!” The employee smiled, turned, and headed back to the friendly confines of the kitchen, happy to be responsible for another satisfied customer!

I think that “settling” has become a major player in our society. So often, we accept poor quality and sub-standard results. We chalk it up to “that’s just the way things are today”. We let people get by with less than their best, and worse than that, we allow OURSELVES to get by with the same! We see the bar being lowered all around us, we put up a perfunctory fight, make a good show of things…and then we throw in the towel and jump aboard the Mediocrity Express. “So what? All the COOL kids are doin’ it!” But I contend that “because everyone else is doing it” is NEVER a good reason to do ANYTHING. We were made for so much more than “merely getting by”. We were WONDERFULLY made in the image of God, and called to be His eyes and ears, hands and feet in this world.

Imagine what the planet would be like if we all actually lived up to our potential. For me, that is only possible when I realize and admit that I have no real power or control…apart from the God who made me. But when we accept that power that God gives us to reach beyond ourselves, we can truly make a difference! Do you want to make a difference? It doesn’t have to be a world-changing difference- start with a difference in one person…yourself! Be what you were created to be! You’ll like what you find! Have a great day, join my Facebook Fan Site (on the left-hand column), Tweet me, share this with as many people as you can, stay away from burnt french fries and stick with Jesus! See you tomorrow!

I’m Unorthodox!

goofy-guy     I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree. I graduated with Honors. I was on the Dean’s List. I also have a Master of Divinity Degree, again graduating with Honors. I am an upstanding member of the community, held in esteem by many. And…I have toys on the shelves of my office! I am a walking, breathing dichotomy- a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, surrounded by a conundrum! Let me explain!
We all know how it is- you grow up, you get… responsibilities. When you’re a kid, you are expected to be goofy, to play with toys, to act in a “non-adult” manner- it’s practically the DEFINITION of the word “kid”! But then, things change. You are in the “real world”, and you are expected to act a certain way, think a certain way, BE a certain way. And it’s true pretty universally across the board. It doesn’t matter if you are the local dog catcher or the President of the United States- people expect you to act “right”! (Comedian George Wallace said that, when he was a kid, his mom would get so mad at him for misbehaving that she would send him to his room and tell him not to come out until he “learned how to act”. He said that, a little while later, he would come out of his room and his mom would say, “Well? Did you learn how to act?!” And he would look at her and say, “To be or NOT to be…THAT is the question”! He shared that she didn’t think it was NEARLY as funny as he did!)
Now I don’t have anything against behaving like an adult. All bragging aside…I’m pretty darn good at it- just ask my kids! In fact, “growing up” is a Biblical principle. In the 13th chapter of the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians, it says, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” It’s natural, even essential, that we “grow up” when we…well…grow up. (I mean, SOMEBODY’S got to do the “heavy lifting”, right?!) My concern is that so many people seem to lose any sense of joy when they “grow up”. You know exactly what I mean. We all know people who are grown up all right, but they haven’t laughed or had fun in…they can’t remember when…and don’t even WANT to remember. “Life is serious business- there’s NO room for frivolity!” Well, I for one respectfully disagree. There is PLENTY of room for frivolity, maybe even a little mirth thrown in every now and then!
I used to worry about appearances- what people thought about me. But as I’ve gotten older, I have come to realize that, at the end of the day, I just don’t care what others think about me! I am a fairly casual dresser. And my casual attire stressed some folks. I once had a parishioner say, “Well, when Rev. So-And-So was here, HE wore a shirt and tie even when he mowed his lawn!” My response? “Well whoop-de-doo for Rev. So-And-So, but I guarantee you will NEVER see me mowing the lawn in dress clothes!” (I’m more of a “ratty gym shorts, ratty t-shirt, ratty tennis shoes, iPod player blaring 70’s Classic Rock into my ears” kind of guy when I mow!)
Some folks want me to be…expect me to be…orthodox. Webster’s Unabridged says that word means “conforming to established doctrine”. Now, don’t get me wrong- I believe in the doctrine of the Church. Perhaps the difference is the word “conform”. Now THAT word means “to be obedient, compliant or identical”. WHAT? That’s where I get off the train!     I’m not willing to be any of those things just because someone says I need to be! Who wants to be identical? Even identical twins aren’t actually identical. I hear “obedient, compliant or identical” and I think of lemmings, in lock-step as they plunge headlong over the cliff. (Although I have read more recently that they really DON’T do that!) God calls us to think for ourselves, look at all the information before us, and make an educated, heart-felt decision about life- NOT blindly adhere to something simply because others want us to. So…I set the tone right up front. When you walk into my office, you DO see a cross-stitched picture of praying hands. You DO see crosses and other overtly Christian wall hangings. But you also see a clock made from a cymbal. You see a whole wall full of St. Louis Cardinals memorabilia. And you see a Superman statue, a Jack ( of Jack-in-the-Box fame) statue, and a Pinky (of Pinky and the Brain fame) statue. Oh, and a Troll doll dressed in a Cardinals uniform! That doesn’t even take into account the GIANT golden Pez dispenser with Charlie Brown’s head on it. Or the St. Louis Rams Super Bowl 34 pennant. Or the Bible character action figures on the shelf. When you attend the church I serve, you get what you get…warts and all. When I mess up (and I DO mess up!), I don’t get all embarrassed and try to hide it or explain it away. For instance, I close EVERY service I do (worship, funeral, wedding, whatever) with The Irish Blessing. I have said it so many times, I can say it in my sleep. Well…apparently I wasn’t asleep one Sunday because I got partway through it at the end of a worship service…and completely forgot it! It was like I had never said it before! It backed it up and took another run at it- still nothing! So I said to the congregation, “You all know it better than me…apparently…so would you please help me finish it?!” (If you can’t laugh at yourself, your life’s TOO serious!)
I’m NOT saying that tradition is a bad thing. I’m NOT saying that we need to thumb our collective nose at all things that are orthodox. I AM saying that life is short, and if you take yourself…and the world around…too seriously, it will get (or at least seem) even shorter. Or to quote that great theologian Dr. Sidney Freeman (from the TV show MASH), “Ladies and Gentlemen, take my advice – pull down your pants and slide on the ice!” Try being a bit…unorthodox…about your orthodoxy- you’ll like what you find!
Thanks for stopping by today. Have a blessed day, please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Mission Vs. Method

mission-method

I was reading an article recently about church growth ideas that don’t cost money. (I LOVE church growth and churches ALWAYS have to think about money!) And while A. the list was a good one and B. I won’t bother you with the entire list…I WILL share ONE of the suggestions!

The one that most caught my attention was “encourage people to fall in love with your mission, not your methods”. And the reason that resonated so well with me is that is a foundational piece of my ministry. So let’s take a moment and unpack what that means.

An awful lot of churches make decisions based entirely on their methods. “We’ve never done it that way.” “We’ve always done it that way.” “We tried that once, in 1938, and it didn’t work.” You get the point- WHAT they do isn’t nearly as important as HOW they do it. They measure everything by whether or not it fits their pre-existing understanding of how things work. If the proposed ministry fits into their tidy little box…then it’s a go. If not…not so much!

What that mentality leads to is comments like, “I don’t like this music.” “I don’t like the noise all these kids make.” “We are getting the building dirty.” “I don’t know everybody…and I don’t like it.” And those are all symptoms of a larger issue- I call it an “all about me” theology. An “all about me” theology put us at the center and everybody else…including God…elsewhere. I had a parishioner once who LOVED to tell me all the things she DIDN’T like…and how much better everything would be if we just did everything HER way! And in the context of one of those MANY coversations, she shared that everything that had been changed at the church was just to please ME. I assured her of two things: 1. if we were going to do things simply to please me, a WHOLE lot of things would look different than they do and 2. if she had a church that was everything she wanted, it would be REALLY easy to maintain…because she would be the only person in it!

Successful ministry is about mission, NOT methods. The mission of the church I currently serve is simple- we exist to connect people to Jesus Christ. We weigh everything we do by that yardstick. There are LOTS of good things out there that are lots of fun…but don’t conect people to Jesus. Not for us. We work hard to stay focused on the mission.

But the other side of that coin is the method. The mission needs to stay solid. The message needs to be foundational. Jesus is Lord…and we exist to connect people to Him. Period. End of sentence. Mic drop. BUT…(you KNEW that was coming!)…as long as that message, that mission is solid…the delivery system can…and should…remain as fluid as possible.

What worked 20 years ago doesn’t work today. And what works today won’t work in 20 years. It’s as simple as that. NOTHING in our lives is the same as it was 20 years ago. So why would we think that church should remain the same? If we are unwilling to adapt to a changing culture, then we run the risk of simply becoming more and more irrelevant. And, for my money, the American Christian Church is already struggling with being irrelevant.

Embrace the mission. Memorize the mission. Build around the mission. Stay true to the mission. But don’t worry so much about the methods. They aren’t really for you or me, anyway. They’re for all those folks out there who haven’t shpwn up yet, who haven’t experienced Jesus yet.

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Yanks 3, Detroit 0, Top of the 7th

yanks-3

The year was 1982. The place? Bloomington, IL. I was in my Senior Year of college as an Acting Major. As my Senior Degree Project, I had decided to direct a play. The way that worked then was that seniors could petition to direct a one-act play in a “black box” theater on campus called The Lab Theater. (We just called it “The Lab”!)

If you aren’t familiar with the term “black box theater”, picture a…you know…black box with chairs in it! Seriously, it was just a decent-sized rectangular room with for black walls, black curtains that ran around all four sides- about 3 feet out from the walls, and a catwalk for lighting, sound and the like. The room is exteremelty flexible- seating can go anywhere in the room. Risers. No risers. Theater in the round. More traditional “proscenium” staging. Whatever. And the emphasis in a Black Box Theater is less on the sets and costumes and more on the acting and directing.

The play I petitioned to direct was called Yanks 3, Detroit 0, Top of the 7th. Being both a baseball fan AND a theater fan, it seemed like a natural choice. And it was. The play has 8 characters-

Duke Bronkowski, the main character, an aging, nearly-washed up Yankees pitcher

Beanie Maligma- the catcher for the Yankees

Old Salt- The Yankee manager

Donna Luna Donna- Duke’s girlfriend

Lucky John, Lincoln Lewis III, Guido Mancini and Brick Brock, Tigers players

The play takes place on the pitcher’s mound at Yankee stadium during a game- top of the 7th, based on the title. The VAST majority of the dialogue is by Duke, who sees his career, and at some level, his life, crumbling around him. Not only does the catcher and the manager come to the mound to isit him, but his girlfriend even does…defying all logic.

To stage the play, I needed baseball uniforms. Makes sense. So, on a whim, I wrote to the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees, asking for them to loan me some uniforms. I honestly had NO expectation that I would actually hear BACK from them. And I did NOT hear back from the Yankees. Nothing. Not a peep. I ended up charming the local sporting goods store into loaning me Yankee uniforms and a warm-up jacket for the manager. I also sweet-taled the university athletic department to let me use a set of catcher’s gear.

But one day, when I got back to our apartment from school, there was a box on the porch…and the return address was the Detroit Tigers! In the box was a letter…and three Detroit Tiger uniforms! The letter was from none other than Jim Campbell, who was the Detroit General Manager at the time. Basically, the letter said that I could use the uniforms on two conditions: 1. I returned them before Spring Training and 2. I didn’t give the team any credit for the loan. (They didn’t want to be inundated with requests!)

I took the unifrms out of the box and looked at them. They were genuine, game-worn major league uniforms. None of them had a name on the back, but you could see that they used to. In fact, one of them had clearly been worn by legendary detroit shortstop Alan Trammell. For a baseball fan who was also a play director with basically NO budget, this was like HEAVEN!

True to my word, I did NOT mention the Detroit Tigers in the “thank you” part of the program. But I DID thanks a certain “Mr. Jim Campbell”…nudge, nudge, wink, wink. After the show closed, I dutifully boxed the unifoms up and sent them back to Detroit. But all these years later, I STILL look back fondly on a gracious gesture a gentleman who was A, pretty powerful and B. didn’t have to do ANYTHING for this goofy college kid in Illinois did. Good stuff. Commit a random act of kindness today!

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!