Helping the Donald Find the Collection Plate

Every religious action of Donald Trump is being scrutinzed to see if he might actually be a Christian as he claims to be. Yesterday we caught the Donald confusing the communion plate for the offering plate and should actually be praising him for his willingness to give.

But Trump’s gaffe provides a perfect opportunity to raise a question about how we help outsiders find their way when they worship with us. Since I was not there, this is a general reminder that we do many things in church life that is just baffling to unchurched people as well as to people raised in other traditions.

Here’s my plea: Let’s become more explicit about what we are doing during our worship times. Not only will visitors appreciate it, the church will benefit from the teaching that results from this kind of instruction. Here are some of my suggestions for how this might be done.

  1. At the beginning of the service, explain briefly what will happen in the service.
  2. Before communion, explain in every day langauge what is about to happen. Since I belong to a fellowship that does communion weekly, this is a weekly opportunity to tell how communion participates in the story of Jesus.
  3. Before the offering, explain why the church is taking up money both fiscally and theologically. Invite visitors to give as they are moved. (Please don’t tell them they don’t have to give and that it is just for members as this short-circuits what God may be doing in their lives–they may really need to give because of where they are).
  4. Have attractive literature ready as a guide for newcomers and those from other church traditions so they can find their way around the facility but also through the service.
  5. Have hosts speically trained and available for those who might need some help finding their way. Call on the people who have the emotional sensitivity to read the comfort level of others.
  6. Learn to recognize and not use “insider” language that only those trained in church-ese would understand.

Ok, here are some of my suggestions to help the Donalds of the world find their way in a new church setting, perhaps you have others.

So should the Donald visit your worship gathering, make sure he can find his way easily.


To Dream Again

All organizations and organisms have life cycles. Old churches have a different feel about them and new churches and churches in the prime of their ministry have that special something that seems to be missing from churches that have plataeued or are winding down. The same can be said of other institutions, including schools, hospitals, college, etc.

In the chart we have words that describe the various stages of an LifeCycleCurveorganization’s life cycle. New churches all begin with a dream. Even before the church formed, someone had a dream that a church was needed. Very quickly the new church orders itself around what it believes, goals were set, and appropriate structures were set in place to accomplish those goals. Within a few years, a church often finds itself doing the ministry the dreamers set out to do. This stage can last for many years but in time will become the “good ole days.”

If the leaders are savvy enough, they will sense when the church begins to lose its edge. And if they will help the church catch the vision again, or dream again, the church can experience many more years of full-fledged ministry.

However, most churches, in time, find themselves, slipping. One of the first signs is when it is easier to tell stories about what God use to do among us than to be excited about what God will do next. In time questioning and polarization sets in, and dropouts follows. Amazingly churches can exist in this semi-comatose state for years—until the money runs out or that last two people die. The Good News is that this does not have to be in the end of the story. Options include becoming a legacy churches that is willing to give their lives so others can dream, where the life cycle can begin again; or a church can choose to do the hard work of revitalization where they dream again.

While it is much easier to spur a church to dream again as they are coming off of a successful season of ministry, a church that has plataeued or declined can find new life—if they want it and will turn to God for it. And this is  key. The people, members of the church, must want to see their church live again with all their hearts. So if either of these are your story, I would love to hear from you.

So, join me. Let’s dream again.

The Five Most Important Questions

When Jesus formed the church, he had at least two aims in mind. Church would first of all be about loving God with heart, soul, mind and body (or strength) and, secondly, that this group of people would love their neighbors as themselves (Mark 12:28-34). While “neighbor” might include other church members, Jesus nearly always used the term to push us toward those who are different from us. Given the centrality of this teaching for Jesus, it would be hard to suggest that the church should be doing something other than fulfilling these commands.

Since Jesus says these are the most important commands, any other command we find in the Bible must somehow fit under these. Additionally, any understanding of any of the lesser command that ignores or bypasses these two must be seen as an misinterpretation of the lesser command.

So, if these are the core values of Jesus for the church, how are we doing?

I have found Peter Drucker, the well-known business specialist, to be helpful in this regard. He once framed what he called “The Five Most Important Questions” any organization must ask if it wanted to remain true to its mission. I think you might find them instructive as we seek God’s specific missional vocation for Tammany Oaks.

  1. What is our mission?
  2. Who is our customer?
  3. What does the customer value?
  4. What are our results?
  5. What is our plan?*

I have found these questions very helpful in thinking out where God might be leading us. While the church is not a business, it is in the business of announcing the kingdom of God and our “success” can be measured in how well we are doing that and lives that are transformed because of it.

So what is our mission? While each congregation needs a specific focus, we can be sure that it involves loving God and loving “other” people. So who are the church’s customers? Again, Jesus helps us here: God and “other” people. When the church views her members as the primary “customers,” her mission will always get redirected to “our” perceived needs. Members should see themselves more as customer service representatives who are eager to please God and serve others.

The final two questions are the hard ones, and as such, deserve more of our attention than I can give here. However, we should be able to see that the answers lie near the two greatest commands.

What are the markers of a “successful” church? Two of the makers, of course, would be that a successful church loves God and other people.

So what is the church’s plan? While the answer to this question needs to have specifics based on where God has placed each congregation, we can be sure the plan should be the outworking of loving God and others.


* Peter F. Drucker, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask about Your Nonprofit Organization (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993).

Where were You on August 29, 2005?

Within American history, there have been several events that qualify as “conscientious altering.” Among these one might list the Civil War, the Great Depression, the Great Wars (I and II), the assassination of Kennedy, 9-11, and, I would class with these, Hurricane Katrina.

Of this level of event, you can ask people, “Do you remember where you were that day?” and they can tell you exactly where they were. While I’m too young to remember Kennedy’s assassination, I remember the impression the event left on my parents and grandparents. They would tell stories about where they were at the exact moment they heard the news.

I remember 9-11 vividly. I was in New Orleans, more precisely, I was getting ready to take Rachel to school. We were watching the morning news and watched, along with millions of other viewers, as the first place crashed into the World Trade Center. The scenes are forever sketched on my mind.

For me, Katrina was much more personal. I knew people who were forever affected by the storm. I was in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada when Katrina struck but my family, but because of our ties to New Orleans, we helplessly watched CNN for a month because it felt like it was happening to us, too. We gasped as reporters showed us places we knew. Now that we are back in this area, I understand what people mean when they say things have changed—alot.

Katrina and aftermath had an enormous impact on the life of the Tammany Oaks Church of Christ. On August 28, 2005, the building where we now worship was to be formally dedicated to God’s purpose. The church numbered over 200 in regular attendance; things looked up. That is a far cry to where the church finds itself today, but that dogged determinism remains and though the times have been hard, we are still here. And that signals hope.

It is not unusual for someone who has survived a terrible car accident to believe they are still here because God has a mission for them. I wonder if that is the same attitude we should take. God has preserved us to this day, thus, he must have a purpose for us. We are here; we have survived.

Long ago, when the Judeans were forcefully exiled to Babylon, they experienced an event as soul-shaking as our Katrina. When they finally returned home, they thought it would never be the same. They looked at the once magnificant Temple which now seemed only a shell of its former self.  When they thought that things could never be as good as they once were. God announced through his prophet Haggai:

‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” (Haggai 2:8–9 NIV)

Perhaps that is what God has in mind for us, too. In Christ, we have to believe that the best days are yet to come.

Copied from Tammany Oaks Church of Christ Bulletin, 29 August, 2010.

The Missional Church and God’s Mission

There are quite a bit of misunderstanding about what is meant by the phrase “missional church.” Some emergent church leaders take it as a badge for the founding of non-traditional, anti-institutional church projects.

However, the missional church conversation is not about church planting per se, though it could fuel the planting of new churches. When I speak of missional church, I’m not primarily speaking about any church growth or church planting scheme. I’m not talking about a plan or a scheme at all.

The missional church conversation is primarily a biblical and theological conversation that starts not with the church or our culture, but with the mission of God as revealed in the Bible and then carried out throughout history through God’s gracious guidance of his people, the church.

Through the influence of many voices in this conversation, I have come to summary the mission of God in three steps. From the beginning of the biblical story, God’s mission has always been (1) to call a distinct people (2) to live his life (3) for the sake of the world. This mission is deeply rooted in the nature and character of God and those who join this mission will look increasingly like God.

To call a distinct people. Whether we are in the Old Testament or New, God seeks to call a people to be his own. In the Old Testament, God called the Israelites to live a life distinct in the Ancient Near East. True many of Israel’s practices were similar to the nations around them. However, what was distinct about Israel was their commitment to YHWH and to him alone. In the New Testament, we have a continuation of this story in the distinct life which Jesus lived and which he passed on to his disciples. Thus, the church was born to live out this life until Jesus returns.

To live God’s life. Part of the uniqueness of the Christian life is that at root it is a renunciation of our lives so that we can take upon the life of Christ. With the rhythm of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, our lives participate in the life of God by living, suffering and even dying for the good of others.

For the sake of the world. There are perhaps plenty of Christians who really do want to be part of God’s distinct people and think they want to live God’s way. However, the missing link is often today that we, in line with the culture in which we live, don’t understand that our lives are now dedicated to do good in this world and for this world.

Is Your Church Healthy?

Church bulletin blooper: “Is life killing you? Let the church help.” The church secretary was not intending to say that the church could help kill you. However, there are some settings in which life in the church is harmful to people’s spiritual health.

A church will never attain the status of being perfectly healthy. Churches are full of people and consequently will exhibit the health of it members. As such churches will be more healthy or less healthy on a continuum.

So what are some of the traits of a healthy church. A healthy church will value people and their contribution to the larger good of the church family. These churches value traditions that celebrate people. They are places where people can talk freely, not as if people are walking on eggshells. In these churches people can hear strong messages from others without merely reacting to those messages. In these churches values and explicit expectations are consistent.

However, unhealthy churches are characterized by a grim atmosphere where traditions continue which suppress the human spirit rather than set it free. In these churches there reigns a chaotic value system and implicit expectations new members can only guess at.

When churches find themselves in this state, they have a tendency to avoid outside intervention. It is as if everyone knows something is wrong, but no one but the fringe members have the courage to say so. These situations however will not improve without outside help.