To me, this is the toughest part of being a pastor.

I have been in pastoral ministry for over 20 years.  In my experiences, the toughest part of being a pastor involves death.  What’s strange is that the people with whom I have the strongest connection are those with whom I have walked through the death of a loved one.  Strange how that works.

I called Darald Richardson the “patriarch” of First Baptist Church of Fort Dodge, IA.  As far as I knew, he was the longest tenured living male member of this church.  He was one of the treasures of this congregation.

I have been by the bedside of many individuals who were beginning the dying process; it is something that I have come to recognize when I see it.  Darald has not been well physically for quite a while, but when I visited with him early last week, I saw the beginning of the process.  I even told Mary Jo later that day that I wouldn’t be surprised if I was doing Darald’s funeral in the not-too-distant future.  Little did I know how accurate that statement was.

I have done more funerals than I care to remember, but there are those that are tougher than others.  Darald’s will be in that tough group.  There have been funerals which I have struggled to get through emotionally.  Darald’s will be in that group.  

There is a very good reason why I place it in that group.  I was proud when Darald called me, “pastor.”  But I was even more proud that Darald called me “friend.”  I loved hearing him say to me, “Pastor Jim, how’s my friend today?”  Darald always had the ability to lift me up.  

There have been different men in my life who have been very important to me.  I think of Dr. Carl B. Hoch, Jr., my advisor in seminary, Rev. Dr. Fred Moore, my mentor in ministry, and Dale Redfield, my wife’s maternal grandfather, with whom I had a very strong relationship, a man who taught me what was most important in life: relationships and stewardship of what God has given to us.  All three of these men have been called home.  Because of my relationship with Darald, I include him in this small group of men.

The words of the Apostle Paul concerning himself are appropriate also for Darald; “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”  Darald, rest in your reward from our Lord. 

Until I see you again, my friend.

Your friend,

Pastor Jim

 

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Is this the ultimate, “We’ve always done it that way” in the church realm?

In a new book (which I haven’t as of yet read) by Thom and Joani Schultz, Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Any More, Thom, in an article giving a synopsis of the book writes, “Most people don’t want to go to church. But why? And what might interest them in joining a community of faith?  Those questions have sent us across the country looking for answers. After years of research and countless interviews, my wife Joani and I have finally collected our findings.”

Can you guess the second of four reasons they found? “I don’t want to be lectured.”

Numerous education experts and researchers have stated many times that the least effective method of teaching is lecture-based.  This is because it is very easy for those “listening” to tune out the one who is speaking because they do not truly need to engage in the exercise.  Yet, what is the most common method used on Sunday mornings in sanctuaries in church buildings across this country?  Yep, the lecture.

The question is, if this is the least effective method, why is it still employed as the main way of teaching in a worship gathering?  Is the “preaching of a sermon” the ultimate “We’ve always done it that way?”

Many of those who are in a sanctuary for a worship gathering on any given Sunday will not be able to, by the time of the next gathering the following Sunday, remember what was taught in the sermon at the previous gathering.  If this is factual, and I believe it is, why is it, then, that this is the preferred method in sanctuaries during worship gatherings?

Is it time to begin to move away from the lecture-based approach to the discussion-based approach?  I say this because as was said on http://teaching.berkeley.edu/ways-make-your-teaching-more-effective, “Good teaching can’t happen without student learning.”  If the vast majority of those present at worship gatherings cannot remember by the following Sunday what was taught the previous Sunday, how effective, truly, is that teaching?  

As has been said, “If you’re leading but no one is following, you’re just out for a walk.”  If I’m teaching, but no one is truly learning, am I, in reality, just expelling air?

More than two years ago, I made an adjustment to how long I preach because of something I was told and then I confirmed what this research said.  A retired teacher, who is a long-time, very active, member of my church and who taught for 40 years in the public school system, told me about some research on attention spans.  This research showed that a person’s attention span was 1 minute for every year of age up to 20.  The normal maximum attention span for an adult is 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, most people have tuned out the one speaking.  At that time, it was common for me to preach about 30 minutes in length.  This is the model under which I had been raised and it was the common experience in the churches of which I had been part (not as a pastor).  Because of this, I shortened my sermons so that the common length is 20-23 minutes.

Now, let’s change gears.  What is the most effective method of teaching?  The one in which a person is actively engaged.  It is in those active discussions where exchanges of questions, answers, responses and thoughts occur.  This demonstrates that a person is actively engaged with what is happening.  Active engagement cannot be assumed.  It also cannot be determined by asking and receiving a “Yeah” or a nod of the head in response.  If I want to make sure my son has truly understood something I have told him I expect from him, I will not accept a “Yeah” or a nod of the head in confirmation; I make him say back to me, in his own words what is expected, so that I know that he has engaged with it.

How can this be adapted to the setting of a worship gathering?  I’m still mulling that over, but what I’m finding interesting is that this is an additional piece added to the confluence of different pieces in my overall thought process.  Other pieces of that process are the desire for true kingdom growth, which I define as new people being drawn to and into the kingdom of God, not just transfers from another church, and what will be beneficial in creating an environment so that may occur, the idea of the church as an organic community where life happens, having worship gatherings where the presence of Christ is strongly experienced and encountered, not just some “ritual” or “obligation” which most of us, if we were truly honest, could do in our sleep, and allowing the Spirit to have control, supplying the order and content of our gatherings through His people by sharing with them during the previous week what He wants them to bring to the gathering for the edification of the Body. (1 Corinthians 14:23-26)

Much to consider.

 

A Desire

My wife, Mary Jo, and I have been reading and discussing a book that is causing us to really dig into our marital relationship and what it can and should be.  Not unlike other marriages, our marriage can be so much better than it has been, in the area of true and deep intimacy which is oneness.  A covenant relationship, which marriage is, is also a communal relationship.  It is in and through the living of life together through which deeper and deeper intimacy should come.

Unfortunately, many marriages, and ours is not immune to this, have been affected by a compartmentalizing of life.  While some compartmentalizing in life may be good, too much of it has the effect of making it easy to construct walls in life and relationships behind which a person can hide and not truly fully reveal one’s self to another.

While our marriage has been okay and has had its ups and downs, it has also been ordinary.  What I desire is an extraordinary marital relationship with her and she desires the same.  With God’s help, we will walk the path to that destination.

As I have contemplated all of this, a desire for another covenant relationship has arisen – that of the church.  The church is a community of people who are living together in a covenant relationship.  That means that those of the community live life together.  Two ways in which Merriam-Webster defines community are “an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location” and “a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.”

Regarding the “community” of the local church, how much has the perspective toward community sneaked its way into the church?  For example, “church” (by which they really mean going to a building for a worship experience) is typically done on a Sunday morning.  People come, due their due diligence or fulfill some type of obligation, and then go home, thankful to have gotten that responsibility out of the way.  There is an underlying attitude that one “goes to church.”  To me, that demonstrates a perspective or attitude that being a part of a believing community is something I go do or is an add-on to who I am.  From this perspective or attitude comes an attitude of separation and division because of compartmentalization of one’s life.

The idea of true community, of living life together must be recaptured.  Because this piece is often missing, what has replaced which is actually shallow, but looks good on the surface.  Because this piece is often missing, I am of the belief that the perspective exists that one comes to a gathering of the church to receive a service or services.  It is often called a worship “service.”  

When my car isn’t running right, I take it to my mechanic to get it serviced.  That means I take it to him/her to have that person do something for or to me and my car.  S/he does it; I am an inactive bystander.  And then I pay that person for “services rendered.”  What often is the approach and perspective when a gathering of the believing community for worship is for a worship “service?”  The people come and those up front who have been trained or educated, the “experts” if you will, do the service for or to us as we sit in the pews and receive it and then go home.  People then place money in the collection plate as “payment” for “services rendered.”

What is missing is the true intimacy of the community gathering for worship in which all those present are actively involved.  And, having read numerous times that the generation known as the “Millenials” is a “tribal” generation, I wonder if the lack of this true communal intimacy which they also see in the world-at-large is a big reason why many dismiss the church altogether.

So, what to do about this? 

One of the best ways I know for community and intimacy to happen is around the table – the eating of food.  I often wonder what would be the result if the following scenario was the norm for a local community of believers.

From the conclusion of the previous worship gathering, everyone in that particular community of believers begins to listen for what God, through His Spirit, wanted to share with him/her for the possible edification of the body at the next gathering of the believing community.  That could be in a word from God, be it a prophecy, an encouragement, an admonition, or something else, a song, a tongue, an interpretation, an artful display or some other expression of the gifting of the Holy Spirit.  This all begins as the gathered community sits down to tables and eats brunch in a “community” room.  People share with each other around the tables which then breaks out into more “communal” sharing which would involve multiple tables or all tables.  It could be someone who has a word for the Lord to share stands up and shares it with the whole gathered community. It could be someone who stands up and shares something s/he saw the Lord do the previous week.  It could be a song of praise that then the whole gathered community sings and meditates on the words they just sang.

Some might say that this approach throws out order (which is defined as an “order of service”) and invites chaos.  Well, maybe from a human viewpoint that would be true, but if what is being shared is what God through His Spirit wants shared, isn’t it then God’s order that is being experienced?  I often wonder if people are so tied to their idea of “order” for what is “order” in worship that they, in essence, tell God to “sit back and relax; we got this handled ourselves.  Our order is better than Yours.”

From this communal sharing and experience of intimacy, new ideas of how the Lord wants to reach out through those of the gathered community into the overall community in which this gathered community can be discovered and shared.  New ideas of how to draw in others who have been rejected by the world’s “community” for whatever reason might be shared.  The older-in-the-faith, more mature Christians can be involved in the lives of younger-in-the-faith, less mature Christians through which those younger in the faith can learn and go deeper into what it means to follow and live for Christ (think Titus 2).

From this, there is an intimacy that becomes integral to the life of the individual believer and the life of the gathered community.  From this, the importance of being in community is not only stressed, but truly experienced.  

Much like the path Mary Jo and I are currently walking has showed me/us the crucial, but missing, piece of our marriage known as true intimacy in covenant living, too often this crucial piece is truly missing from the gathered community of God’s people. 

I have a deep desire that this truly changes.