Siren Song

loud-musicThe Song:

At noon and 6pm, music pours forth from my church.  Bells, or electric facsimiles of them, send out five minutes of tunes into the neighborhood around us.  In a closet behind the sanctuary, a cassette is timed to play through outdoor speakers.

It sounds really nice.  We have a few different tapes we can play, even a tape of Christmas tunes to play in December.  I’ve threatened to look online for one that plays Beatles tunes.

The Siren:

Perched atop our building is an elaborate speaker, pointing in all four directions.  When this sound cranks up, people go into their basements.   I suppose the sound is grating, but it could save your life.

It seems to go off at least once every spring when dangerous clouds are swirling overhead. When I hear it, I feel an instant pang in my gut, a warning that all is not well.

What sort of vibe is your church putting out?

Is your church a gentle lullaby, coaxing people in, or is it a brash trumpet, alerting all to imminent danger? Does your church present itself as a sacntuary of rest and comfort, or as a watchtower blowing the whistle on the threats we face?

Which is the right one to be?

A prophetic, siren blaring church is uniquely suited for fighting injustice, for helping the marginalized.  Members of a Siren church write letters and go on marches.  They take risks and carry the banner of Jesus Christ into a broken world.

A song church that sends music out to all who can hear is sending an invitation of peace, gentleness, maybe healing.  Inside the walls of this church is a place of comfort, of creativity, of togetherness.  Members of a Song church invite others to praise God and acknowledge each other as made in the image of God.

There are, of course, many other types of churches, but still I wonder…which of these two would you be drawn to?  Is God’s Kingdom blessed by both?

In the spring, on the first Monday of the month, something interesting happens.  The siren fires up for its monthly test at the same time  that the bells begin to play.

Let me tell you, for a couple minutes there at noon, it’s quite a racket.

But to the discerning ear…

it sounds like harmony.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Election Day at First Church of the Heart

 

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There once was a Church, “First Church of the Heart”
With the strangest distinction I have to impart.

There were 48 members, and it should be noted,
on the day of elections, every one of them voted.

Not a one of them pushy or preachy or snooty,
One by one, on their own, each one doing their duty.

And that in itself is a sign of some health:
A Church that’s engaged, and not just with itself.

When I tell you what happened, your feelings may change,
For this small, noble church took a turn for the strange.

Though the church wasn’t told — to salvage their pride
Every item they voted? 24 on each side.

Every vote for a candidate, every ballot and bout
Had another vote cast that just cancelled it out!

So the question to ponder, that comes to my mind:
Did First Church of the Heart end up wasting its time?

Are you kidding? Of course not! Any church is a treasure
That can differ in politics but worship together.

May we all be as active, accepting, a part
of the world that we’re in…

Without losing Our Heart.

Have a great week,
Mitch

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First posted in Nov, 2014

Breaking Disciples

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We’re supposed to be Making Disciples.

God help us if we’re Breaking them.

  • I serve a church of 500 members.  Our worship attendance is about 200.  Where are those other 300?  Did we not reach them with the Good News of Jesus Christ?  Is our message Broken?
  • It’s a good, active church.  Visitors come, but few join.  Why not?  Is my preaching lousy?  Is our discipleship process flawed?  Is the church Broken?
  • My denomination, the United Methodist Church, is struggling.  Our future is up in the air, with questions and votes and conflicts that seem impossible to solve.  What about the active, faithful folks who have committed their time, talents, and treasures to the Church?  What will happen to those who try to ride out the storm?  Will their will be Broken?

Wow, that’s a lot of brokenness. Active disciples becoming disillusioned.  Unchurched folks seeing no reason to commit.  Inactive members who may experience God, but not in our sanctuaries.

Is it possible that we are breaking disciples at a faster rate than we’re making them?

Sort of a Great Decommission.

I’ll admit, there are times I despair and throw up my hands at the seeming futility of it all.  Do you?  Remember, this is not a pastor issue, it’s a disciple issue.  We who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ must find a way to keep going.  To keep trying.  To keep faithful, even when it’s hard.

Hear these words from Hebrews.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  –Hebrews 12:11.

Ah yes, how could I forget?  We who are disciples are supposed to practice discipline.  We’re supposed to persevere.  To strive.   Making disciples is not an easy thing to do, especially when our culture and our own institutions seem at times to be working against the very thing we’re called to do. Especially when WE are just as broken as anyone else.  We must steadfastly believe that the harvest is coming.

  • Truthfully, I believe in what my church is doing.  Good, faithful stuff!  We may not be gaining the dividend of new or renewed believers that we would like, but these things don’t happen overnight. It’s a challenge, but we are trying to make more than we break.
  • And truthfully, I believe in what my denomination is doing.  Yes, there is so much uncertainty to wade through, but we continue to serve the homeless and helpless.  We continue to a be a voice for justice around the globe. We’re trying to make more than we break.

Rather than despair, I’ve decided I am going to double down on my own discipleship.  Inviting, connecting, loving, and sharing Good News.  Will you join me?

It’s a tough, fragile world, but remember this, fellow Follower:

Christ broke himself,

to fix us all.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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BOAST

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“Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”–2 Corinthians 10:17

Here’s a little word study for you.  In the NIV Bible, 2nd Corinthians mentions “Church” 10 times.  It speaks of “Grace” 11 times.  “Love” is mentioned 12 times.

And the word “Boast” shows up 22 times.

Paul uses that word in all his letters, but in 2 Corinthians, it’s a major theme.  He boasts about one church or another.  He boasts about God’s power.  He even boasts about what has come about from his own suffering.

If it can point to God, he boasts about it.

That’s the point of his boasting.  Not to lift himself up or make himself look good, but to highlight the work of the Lord.  Worldly boasting is bad.  Heavenly boasting?  Very good.

So, how are you doing, boasting wise?  Have you done your share of bragging for Jesus this week?  Are you part of a church that is making a difference, reaching your neighbors, and serving those in need?  Who are you telling about it?

I think my main avenue for boasting is Facebook.  I have 1,309 friends on Facebook.  High School classmates.  Current and former church members.  Colleagues.  College friends.  Family and a lot of people I probably don’t really know.

Maybe 50% of my FB Friends are church-goers.  Another 30%, I would guess, are lapsed or disillusioned Christians.  10% are agnostics, and some atheists, and the last 10% are somehow outside these categories.

I believe I have a responsibility to those 1,309 friends (even though we don’t always see each other’s posts).  My responsibility is to boast.  Here’s why:

  • The Catholic Church’s ongoing abuse scandal “proves” to so many how dangerous religion is. (And indeed, sometimes it is)
  • Stories about hypocritical Christians who look down their noses at those who are different get a lot more traction than “healthy” Christian stories.
  • Accounts of Pastors greedily asking for money, or bookkeepers skimming off the top reinforce a negative view of the Church’s relationship with money.
  • Denominational fights over issues such as abortion and homosexuality present the Church as an anxious and contentious place where other vital ministry takes a backseat.

And so on.  There is very little above to boast about.  In fact, I’d guess the Church’s PR factor is as low as its ever been.  If that’s the public image the Church offers the world, it’s no wonder our congregations are shrinking.

So here’s what I do.  I take pictures of everything exciting, vital, or worthy that my church is doing.  Special events and services, mission opportunities, partnerships in the community, and so on.  And after every event, I post the pictures to Facebook.

(Oh, and by the way, if you TAG people in your FB photos, all of THEIR friends have a chance to see your photos.  That boosts the boast!)

I want all those Christians, disillusioned Christians, atheists, agnostics, etc. to see what the Holy Spirit is doing through my church.  I want as many people as possible to see The Church alive and thriving, living out its vision (although never perfectly), and changing lives, including our own. God forbid I ever run out of reasons to take pictures.

This is me BOASTING!  Now some folks may think I’m boasting for myself, lifting up my church or myself for bragging rights.  Others may think I’m oversharing.  I suppose that’s the risk.  I suppose that’s part of why Paul brings up boasting so many times in 2 Corinthians.  He wants them to understand his true motivations.  I try to convey that as best I can.

Facebook may not be your thing.  Instagram is an excellent alternative, and reaches a younger crowd.  And if social media is not your preferred method of boasting, feel free to share your enthusiasm with the crew that meets for coffee at the McDonalds, or the folks in your Pilates class, or in your office.

Sharing the excitement of your church reaching out and touching God’s Kingdom is nothing to be silent about.  It’s the way things ought to be.  The more we boast, the more the true nature of the Church can be revealed to the world.

By the way–I’ve got room for more friends!  Friend me at https://www.facebook.com/toddmit!

If you do friend me, be sure to check out pictures from this last Sunday. We had so much cool stuff going on…

Paul could have written a whole book about it.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Early Onset Atheism

 

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“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.  Matthew 18:6

For years, we’ve been offering a semester-long confirmation class for all the 7th and 8th graders on our rolls.  We would bring in lots of students whose parents want their kids to get confirmed.  We’d meet once a week for several weeks, and talk about the basics, and then finish the class with a retreat and a special service.

And then… they’d disappear. We’d never see many of those kids again.  Or their parents!  It was as if confirmation class was like driver’s ed, or a get-your-Christianity-card training course.  Pick up your certificate and you’re good to go.

What a drag.  Another class of (literally) half-baked Christians, let loose on the world.

This week I read a study, found at psypost.org, about young Christians who become atheists.  In a survey of over 5,000 atheists, the ones who rejected Christianity earlier in life were the ones who grew up in families who “talked the talk” but didn’t “walk the walk”.

The study uses the term “CREDs” — or “CRedibility Enhancing Displays” to describe a parent’s actions, attitudes, and behaviors that reflect an authentic Christian way of life.  So, this study is suggesting that Christian parents who don’t have much CRED (i.e. they don’t act or talk in particularly Christian ways) may actually be pushing their children right out of the faith.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?  If the person I am looking most up to is doing very little to emulate this Jesus guy, then one of the primary opportunities to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God is never offered.

In other words:  There’s a direct connection between weak Christianity and early onset Atheism.  That’s a scary notion, isn’t?  The idea that some of us pew warmers have actually pushed our kids away because of our own lukewarm faith.

We’ve noticed this negative effect happening not just in parents, but in our church as a whole.  Could our church be pushing young people away from…church? What can the church do to increase our CRED?

Here’s a couple things we’ve done related to Confirmation:

Confirmation class for youth is now 2 years long, taught by the Youth Director, the Senior Pastor, and the ADCO chair.  The increased time requires greater commitment,  but the work is more of an exploration–fueled by the very deep faith questions the youth ask. The goal is to help them become mature Christians.

Parents are encouraged to participate along with mentors, especially on church visits that show our youth the variety of religious experience. Introducing a number of faith options reminds youth they have choice, which can paradoxically help them make a commitment.

Confirmation Class for adults.  We’ve offered a special class for adults who may have forgotten, or never learned, about God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, Sin, Salvation, and on and on.  It was amazing to hear them ask the same questions our youth have asked.  Yes, some of them drifted away after the class.  But others have redoubled their commitment to the faith, and increased their CRED.

Efforts like this are a way for a church to help reduce Early Onset Atheism.  Even better is to help every adult (every parent) develop a rock solid faith, and learn to use it.  We still struggle to do this well, but small groups, discipleship processes, compelling preaching, and mission opportunities can make it happen.

There’s not a person in the congregation that doesn’t need to confirm their faith on a regular basis.  That’s how we remember what we believe, and commit to put it into action.  The more we can remember to walk the walk,

the sooner we give sufferers of Early Onset Atheism,

a cure they can believe in.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Sabbath-Day-OK-This-Time-We-Really-Mean-It

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Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. –Exodus 20:8

It was one year ago today that the World Council of Churches met and made an audacious proposal to the rest of the world:

They suggested that we add an eighth day to the week.

Since it was their idea,  they decided to call the day “Sabbath-Day-OK-This-Time-We-Really-Mean-It”.

The scientists said “Sure, time is a human construction, and we can make it whatever we want.” So they eliminated January and February from the calendar, and did a few more tweaks here and there, and got us back to 365 days a year.

Non-churchgoers loved the idea of an extra long weekend every week. Business owners found that their productivity stayed strong as worker morale improved.  And as for  Christians, celebrating their “Sabbath-Day-OK-This-Time-We-Really-Mean-It”?

Attendance went down.

That’s right. Attendance figures just came out for the past year, and worship in American churches has dropped another tenth of a percent.

It would appear that with more time on the weekend people just did more stuff. More visiting with the grandkids. More time for yardwork. More camping trips or sleeping in.

A tired-looking president of the World Council of Churches issued a statement just moments ago:

“Well, fellow Christians, we tried. We cleared a whole extra day for you to keep the Sabbath, but you just keep doing other things! As of today I am resigning my position. I’m looking forward to a nice long break, and this weekend I plan to go visit my grandkids.”

Rumors of a proposed ninth day of the week movement has met with much criticism. As one Christian said, “Honestly? I think they could add five more Sabbaths every week and it still wouldn’t make a difference. Worship and rest is still a priority for people, but it’s just not the only priority, and not always on Sunday. I love to go to church, but I’ve got other things I want to do, too. So I do my best to balance it out.”

And so, the Eight Days A Week movement, as it has been called, was a success for everybody except the people who proposed it in the first place. Lately, there’s been talk about moving back to the old system. People miss Martin Luther King Jr Day and Valentine’s Day in particular.

As for my humble take on things, I think the church is going to be okay, and I think Christians are going to be okay, but not without some tough times along the way.  Our society has definitely steered away from notions of Holy rest and worship, things God says we clearly need.

I predict people will still gather for worship on the Sabbath, but maybe we need to focus our efforts towards teaching people how to be Holy…

on the other six days.

Or seven.

Whichever calendar you’re using.

Have a good week,

Mitch

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Hypocrite in Untraining

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“I do not sit with the deceitful, nor do I associate with hypocrites.”  –Psalm 26:4

“Yes, you do.”  –Mitch Todd

Is it true?  Are Christians hypocrites?

To find out, I followed someone home from church this week, just to see how hypocritical they actually were.

Here’s a summary of my findings:

  • On Sunday they were a model citizen, until they started shouting obscenities at the game on TV.
  • On Monday, they told their spouse about something from work, and made it sound like they were the hero, when they really weren’t.
  • On Tuesday, they turned the channel away from one of those “starving children” commercials, so they wouldn’t be convinced to give.
  • On Wednesday, they went well over the speed limit.
  • On Thursday, they didn’t tip a waitress, because she brought them the wrong drink.
  • On Friday, they visibly tensed up when someone who didn’t look like them brushed past them at the store.
  • On Saturday, they made a little too merry, and said a few things they probably shouldn’t have.

Nothing earth-shattering there, but everyone of those actions represents some type of hypocrisy.  As Christians, we’re not supposed to exaggerate, or turn a blind eye, or break the law, or treat others rudely, or act out of fear, or over-indulge, or speak carelessly. Right?

That (imaginary) church member should know better!

Every day we have an opportunity to represent Jesus Christ in this world, and every Sunday we declare our desire to do just that. And every week, in small ways and great big ways, we fall short.  We all do this.

Most of our shortcomings are the kinds of minor things anyone might do, but when Christians, who proclaim to live according to a higher authority do them, it’s a glaring misstep.  It’s hypocrisy at its finest.

Here’s the deal: Despite what many might think about our religion, we haven’t arrived at some perfect destination.  Rather, we’re on the journey of a lifetime.  A journey to become more and more like Christ.

Methodists call this sanctification.  To be made holy.  The journey has twists and turns, road-blocks, U-turns and slowdowns, but God willing, we grow in our faith.

We’re hypocrites in “untraining.”

It’s like a sign I made years ago. It said,

“Yes, I’m a Christian.
Yes, I’m a hypocrite.
Yes, I’m working on it.”

When others look at me, I want them to see a reflection of Christ.  But when I fail at that, I want them to see someone humble enough to admit it and try again.  Worship at its best instills in us that kind of humility.

On Sunday morning, when you come to church, don’t pretend to be something that you’re not.

Admit it–you’re a hypocrite!

But take a look around…

you’re in good company.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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NOTE:  As we continue prayers for Texas and the Houston area, I invite you to donate to the United Methodist Committee on Relief.  This organization is among the first on the ground and the last to leave when disaster strikes.  Donate through them by visiting UMCOR.