Tag Archives: church

The Contemplative Pastor

contemplative pastorRenowned theologian Eugene Peterson reminds us in his book, The Contemplative Pastor, that what a church needs most is a pastor immersed both in God’s life and our own lives. For Peterson, the question on a pastor’s mind should be: “Who are these particular people and how can I be with them in such a way that they can become what God is making them?”

A daunting and humbling question, to be sure. But it got me to thinking about the massive role we have come to expect from our pastors. We want them to be active yet reserved, a visionary but realistic, an authority and yet a friend.

Pastors are human, too, and, therefore, cannot be all things to all people.

So it takes us back to Peterson’s question. Finding a good match between a people and the unique person that a certain pastor is is key.

Each pastor has a different style and approach that may work in some churches, but not in others. So it is about both a church and a potential pastor being honest about strengths and weaknesses and what is a good fit and what is not.

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The Drifters

two in pewIn his letter in the Summer 2017 Concordia Seminary magazine, Seminary president Dale A. Meyer makes an interesting observation. He says, “Some people come to worship rain or shine; almost nothing keeps them away. Others, sadly, have walked away from worship and don’t readily return. In the middle, between the always-come and never-come, are those who come but could drift away” (“From the President,” Concordia Seminary magazine, Summer 2017, p. 5).

Let’s call this group the drifters. What causes someone to become a worship drifter? I know for me, the rub comes on Sunday morning when you are cozy in bed and just want to sleep some more. So you drift off to sleep and skip church. For others it is other commitments and activities on Sunday morning that have taken precedence over worship. Sports practices, Sunday brunches, or shopping that needs to get done all can conspire to draw people away from worship. It does not take much for the drift to happen. Even a change in worship time can cause people to bolt.

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Dunbar’s Number

150 membersHave you ever heard of “Dunbar’s Number”? Discovered by British evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it is the human norm that the number of genuinely personal relationships a person can actively maintain is 150, give or take. Dunbar and his colleagues note that “150 people is both the approximate size of a typical small-scale human village and about the number of people who can live or work together without needing power structures to enforce cooperation. The group is small enough that social pressures can keep people in line” (“Does Your Pastor Need a Friend?” Christianity Today, October 2017, p. 62).

I find this interesting because at a recent conference I attended, the keynote speaker said that currently a majority of congregations in America have an average weekly attendance of guess what? 150 members.

It occurs to me that this is not simply a coincidence. 150 appears to be the sweet spot for most churches for the very reasons that research for Dumbar’s Number indicates:

It keeps the group manageable. People do not become just a number. People know them by name. Functions can happen without an overflow of people and not in an oversize room.

It keeps the group personal. Everybody knows each other and can keep relationships functioning. People care about one another because they know them well and see them often.

It keeps the group accountable. People notice when others are missing and can follow up with them. People can see when fellow members are straying and can bring them back into the fold. There is a sense that people are expected to be present at certain times and be there for one another in times of need.

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elephantWe all know the saying “An elephant never forget.” Christ Lutheran Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, used this saying to their advantage to start a program of sending elephant stuffed animals to sick children in the hospital. Each elephant can be colored and written on by friends and family of the hospitalized child. Each elephant also comes with a book with the message that “an elephant never forgets, and God never forgets you.” In the cold and sterile and often chaotic environment of the hospital, the elephant stuffed animal provides  comfort and  encouragement and a feeling of home. Approximately 800 children have received Forget-Me-Not Elephants through the program (“Forget Me Not,” Lutheran Woman’s Quarterly, Summer 2017, p. 28).

This story touched my heart because one of my sister’s favorite stuffed animals was a hand-made elephant named Ellie that she received as a baby from my mom’s best friend from high school. As the years went by, Ellie’s ears frayed at the edges, her nose was torn and stuffing pooched out from the sides. She even went through the wash a few times (sometimes by accident), which cleaned her up a bit. But nothing would stop my sister from keeping Ellie by her side when she went to bed at night—even into high school. Now Ellie has a special place in my sister’s daughter’s room.

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Beyond the Walls

serving othersPresiding bishop of the ELCA Elizabeth E. Eaton relates this story:

The wood frame structure of St. Mary’s Lutheran Church was a “place of worship and hope during the siege of Leningrad during WWII. But people were freezing and starving to death. There was no wood for heating or cooking. So the Lutherans looked at their beloved church and then looked at the suffering around them. Piece by piece they dismantled their building and gave it away for the life of the community” (Living Lutheran, July 2017, p. 50).

Giving away what is most precious to us in the Church to serve others is what being the Church in action is all about. We should never cling so tightly to our church building or our own history as a church body that we fail to meet the pressing needs of those around us.

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Secular Humanism and the Church

globeProbably one of the most rampant worldviews in conflict with the Church today is secular humanism. This is the belief that there is no God, no spiritual direction, no afterlife. This world and this life is all there is to the secular humanist. There is no room for or need for God. Secular humanists rely solely on human reason.

The prevalence of secular humanism leads to a kind of elevation of humanity and a quest to live life to satisfy your own personal needs to the fullest, since this is all there is.

What can the Church do in the midst of secular humanism? One way is to gently point people to the Bible’s statements of the involvement of God in the world.

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Pluralism and the Church

The WayWe live in an increasingly pluralistic society. Pluralism is the philosophy that holds that no single explanation or view of reality can account for all the phenomena of life. As a result, most issues are considered “neutral” (neither right nor wrong) and can be determined by the individual as he or she sees fit.

The problem for the Christian Church because of pluralism is that the Christian Church becomes only one of many possibilities for how to look at the world, and, therefore, any standard of truth or conduct is diminished or often even disregarded.

Pluralism leads to a kind of chaos of thought in which nothing is agreed upon and there are no set rules for anything. It’s about your truth and my truth and their truth and all are considered okay in this framework.

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Consumerism and the Church

consumerismIdeologies of the world often clash with the theology of Christianity, and the ideology of consumerism is one of them.

Consumerism says, “I will pick and choose what I want.” In the mentality of consumerism, which is one of the most pervasive approaches in our society today, life is all about making choices. We choose what to buy, where to shop, where to live, what career to follow, what job to take, etc.

The problem comes when that approach leaks into spiritual life and the same principle is applied to what people believe and where they go to church. In this model, “the church becomes just another retail outlet, faith just another commodity. People change congregations and preachers and even denominations as readily and they change banks and grocery stores” (Colson, Chuck, The Body).

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Small Churches

small churchAccording to a study done by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), of the 3.6 million baptized members of that church body, half worship in congregations with an average attendance of 150 or less. And out of the ELCA’s 9.393 congregations, 82 percent have an average worship attendance of 150 or less (Lammi, Kurt, “Would They Notice?” Living Lutheran, p. 33). The conclusion? The denomination is mostly made up of small congregations (p. 33).

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carpetingI have lately been contemplating the concept of adiaphora. Not only because it is fun to say, but because many of the things we spend a lot of our time thinking about in the Church oftentimes fall into the category of adiaphora.

In general for Christians, adiaphora means “matters not regarded as essential to faith, but nevertheless permissible or allowed in the church.”

Things like discussions of the floor covering in the sanctuary or the color of the paint on the walls of the fellowship hall, for example, are not essential to faith, but do constitute a large part of our time sometimes. Adiaphora.

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