Monday, October 29, 2012

Pastor Admits to Doing B-Work

A man in my church admitted to doing B-work on his doctoral program. He also made it to every one of his son's soccer games during his son's senior campaign. The father's priorities were clear.

The comment reminded me of a confession my wife made one day after she engaged in an all-day Barbie marathon with our youngest daughter."I'll never look back on my life and say, 'I wish I would've done more dishes when the girls were young.'"

Or folded more laundry. Or dusted more blinds.

Many older mothers likely lament missed opportunities with their children. Many older fathers likely regret staying late at work while their sons batted cleanup. Or played second doubles. Or nailed the solo in a concert performance. Or struggled with math homework.

An "A" in one area of life results in a "B-work" elsewhere. I almost dumped my to-be wife in college because Greek paradigms enticed me. And cross country races. And campus ministry. Good grades earned me a distinguished diploma. Liz has made me a better man.

The struggle for success becomes much more manageable when I determine what areas of life demand A-level attention. As a small church pastor, my weekly responsibilities range from sermon creation to counseling to curriculum development to loving neighbors to discipleship to vision-casting to directing YouTube videos to board meetings to program management to event planning to office administration to pencil-sharpening to folding bulletins to communications to teamwork to to writing blogs to equipping to ordering cheap crap from Oriental Trading.

(B-level film created by Tim Sprankle)

I am not a straight-A pastor; I don't strive to be. Business books and Andy Stanley tell me I should find what I'm best at (i.e., A-level) and find that "seat on the bus." There's only one problem: I've always had a problem sitting still.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Worshiping with Surround Sound

Our worship team often cannot hear themselves on stage. One instrument drowns out the others. The melody gets buried beneath monitor mixes and hot guitars. I don't notice from the auditorium. I'm too distracted by the children in our worship service, who provide their own surround sound.

Josh taps marker caps on the table; Tina asks him to be quiet. Ellie punctures a Styrofoam plate with a ballpoint pen; I redirect her. Annie dances in the aisle; her father helps her twirl.

This is a typical Sunday morning: lots of noise. Some static. Some symphonic. Mostly joyful.

Then Margot tugs on her mother's sleeve to present a drawing; Liz is proud.

"It's Jesus," Margot explains. "He's protecting a girl from the storm." Margot's theology is sound; her sense of proporiton has room to improve.

The same Jesus who commands storms in Margot's art is the one who invited children into his company. Children: Noisy, messy, and prone to run with scissors. Jesus loves them. Let them come.

Monday, October 8, 2012

One Body Short of Exploding

"We are on the cusp of exploding," I described to my elders at a recent meeting. "We are just one or two bodies short." We always are. We may always be.

Case and point: Saturday we scheduled a Paint and Scrub Party. We had a hallway described as "in process." Late in July a group of Operation Barnabas students put the first coat of paint on the cinder blocks. The second level of blocks was not smooth, but rough. The paint didn't take well. The students ran out of time. The hallway remained "in process" for two months afterward.

I'd hoped the Paint and Scrub Party would complete the process. No one touched the hallway. Only three bodies came to paint. They tackled the nursery--another lingering job that remains lingering.
My problem is that I tend to fuss about those who chose not to attend, rather than glory in the few who are there to serve. Reasons for not coming on a work day abound: poor communication, busy schedules, unappealing tasks, forgetfulness, laziness, and college football.

The same reasons surface when we hold hours of prayer at our church. Attendance stinks. I fuss about the absentees rather than the intercessors.

This feeling of frustration pervades most areas of ministry:
    • We need one more couple in the nursery to keep it staffed
    • We need one more teacher for children to fill the rotation
    • We need one more musician to perfect the band
    • We need one more girl to bring balance to the youth group
    • We need one more evangelist to inspire our outreach
    • We need one (or three) more names for the annual ballot

    Of course, I would be foolish to think this problem plagues only smaller churches. A recent conversation with a small group leader at a large church confessed the need for more leaders. Talks with other pastors have revealed a similar sentiment: One more body would make us better.

    The challenge lies in defining what is "better." It is not bigger. Nor is it more efficient. To employ one of Jesus' metaphors, the best churches are those that harvest. "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Pray to the Lord of the harvest, that He might raise up workers for the harvest" (Luke 10:2b).

    According to Jesus, harvesting work begins with prayer. Unfortunately, our church is one intercessor short.

    Monday, October 1, 2012

    The Underground Church Elevates Us

    "The distinctive feature of the Underground Church," wrote Richard Wurmbrand, "is its earnestness in faith." Pastor Richard Wurmbrand chronicled his experience of persecution and torture as a Romanian pastor and Christ-follower under the Communist regime in his book Tortured for Christ. His stories reach beyond personal experience, providing glimpses of the Underground Church as an exceptional expression of Jesus' Bride.

    Tortured for Christ"The members of the Underground Church don't call their organization by this name. They call themselves Christians, believers, children of God." The title, like the moniker Christian, was bestowed upon them by their opponents, Wurmbrand explained (cf. Acts 11:26 cf. 1 Pet. 4:16).

    The contrast between those who follow Jesus underground in oppressive countries versus those who follow Jesus in multiplexes and strip malls is striking. Christians in America have labels, too: Fundamentalist, Evangelical, Methodist, Pentecostal, Brethren, Baptist, and Non-denominational. Our labels didn't emerge from the mouths of accusers, but grew from marketing teams, dead theologians, and ecclesiastical publicists. The choice in affiliation, style, and programming abound in Western churches.

    Not only do we differ in the number of choices and level of freedom we have in our context, but there may be an inverse level of commitment and intensity. We squirm when a sermon reaches the thirty minute mark; those Underground sit in crammed rooms for hours. We give token offerings from our overstock; those Underground offer their first fruits. We read one-page devotionals like a spiritual vitamin; those Underground feast on the Word like starving children. We fight depression, gorge on media, showing signs of ADHD, anxiety, and over-taxed schedules; those Underground radiate simplicity and joy. (Wurmbrand wrote, "I have found truly joyful Christians only in the Bible, in the Underground Church, and in prison."

    I'm a prisoner to this reality--Consumption and Progress, Skepticism and Self--but I want to break out. May Jesus set me free. I trust He will use our brothers in sisters Underground to help.