Tag Archives: community

Virtual Choirs

In this new age of keeping our distance, people have found creative ways to come together as disciples of Christ. One of those ways is through virtual choirs in which many people in various places and spaces lift up their voices to the Lord through Zoom or other video chat programs. It is interesting to watch and listen to virtual choirs to see the joy on singers’ faces and to still hear the harmonies blending beautifully through the screen.

Here is a link to one example of a virtual choir of Augustana College alumni singing, “For the Beauty of the Earth”:

The increase in virtual choirs during this time shows to me that people are craving the experience of singing songs to the Lord together. It is something that is missing from even in-person worship with parishioners’ voices muffled behind masks.

The virtual choir is a a visual representation of the expanse of the Church. The Church is never confined to one place, but is scattered throughout the nation and the world, bringing good news of the beauty our Lord provides to people throughout the earth. We have known in theory that the Church is present worldwide, but now we see it and sense it on our computer screens. When we join our voices with those we hear on screen, we feel the bond of faith we share and we welcome the community of believers into our hearts and homes. Our common tie to Christ as our Lord and Savior connects us and streams through us as we sing.

Search for virtual choirs online and let the notes you raise in chorus with them be a sacrifice of praise to the Lord for his many blessings and music to his ears.

Exercising Body and Soul

exerciseThere is a trend in churches today to offer wellness and physical exercise programs within their walls. Some churches have gyms where members and those in the community can work out, and some offer fitness classes on a regular basis. For instance, since 2011 St. Enoch Lutheran Church in Kannapolis, NC, has been offering an hour-long class that incorporates dance, weights, Christian music and closes with a devotion and a prayer (Strybis, Erin, “Fit and Faithful,” Living Lutheran, January 2019, 15).

These sorts of programs help to build community and connections among members and others outside the church. They encourage healthy living and self-care of the bodies God has given us, these “temples of the Holy Spirit” we have been blessed with (1 Corinthians 6:19). The programs also foster and encourage discipline.

Just as we need to exercise our bodies on a regular basis, we need to exercise our souls. Exercising our souls on a regular basis through prayer, reading Scripture, Bible study, small group ministry and worship keeps our spiritual selves healthy and strong. Like physical exercise, there is a discipline to it that is not always something we are good at. But with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can keep at it. Think of the Holy Spirit as your trainer, always reminding you and encouraging you to keep going and to remember the benefits that come from regular exercising of our souls: a closer relationship with our Savior, a confidence and hope in him and a joy that lasts forever. Keep exercising your soul this week and see how your spirit is uplifted and stays fit.

 

The Three E’s

The Three E's Christianity Today founder Billy Graham’s original vision for the periodical was to “engage, encourage and equip the church” (Harold Smith, “Why Now?” Christianity Today, 9). It remains the vision of the magazine to this day and it should be the driving force and mission behind all that we do as members of the church here and now.

Here’s what that can look like:

Engage: We as Christians need to engage the church in its mission to spread the Gospel message by being present and not staying in the shadows. We need to stay involved in what our individual congregations are doing. We need to worship, sing and share with others what God has done in our life in Christ through his death and resurrection. All of our engagement goes a long way to keep our church vital and active and an integral part of our communities.

Encourage: We need to do all we can to compliment and support the work of all the workers in the church who invest countless hours putting together and conducting worship services, Sunday school lessons, Bible studies, musical experiences and all sorts of groups and programs in any church’s given ministry. The work of the church can be draining and thankless. A kind word, a pat on the back, a note of thanks from you to your ministry team can mean the world to those who serve in the church.

Equip: Equipping the church can come in many ways. We can give the church the tools they need to carry out their ministry by giving of our time, talents and treasures. There are so many ways in which we can volunteer for a program or lend a hand in a building project or provide monetarily what we can for a cause. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver¯ St. Paul said to the Corinthians and he says to each of us today (2 Corinthians 9:7). Do what is truly in your heart to give to equip the church in its endeavors to reach more and more people with the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord.

That’s what will make the church grow and thrive through him. See what you can do to take part in one or all of these three e’s in your labors for the Lord this week in response to his love.

Our Vocation

vocationDr. W. Mart Thompson in his seminar “You Are a Royal Priesthood—God calls and equips Christians to serve one another,” talked about the role of vocation in our lives.

Vocation is a calling from God to serve him and others. In a Christian context there are three realms or estates of our vocation. They are: home, congregation, and society.

As part the seminar, each participant shared their vocation using these parameters. Here’s mine as an example.

Name: Mark

A family vocation: brother, son

A congregational calling: Bible study leader

An occupational vocation: writer at Creative Communications

A community calling: member of a Tuesday night bike-riding club

It was an interesting exercise because it helped me to see where God has placed me to serve and how I might be more intentional in revealing my relationship with Christ to others and being more Christ-like in my words and deeds.

It was also interesting to listen to the vocation lists of all those in attendance and hear how God is working in so many and various ways in the lives of his people. The ways in which people volunteer and give of their time and unique skills was truly inspiring.

Consider doing this vocation exercise this week for yourself and think about how God has placed you in a certain time and place and position for a reason. Take time to ponder what those reasons are, pray about them and then act upon them as the Holy Spirit directs you.

 

 

The Church: A Mountain or a Funnel?

mountain churchAt a recent conference I attended, one of the speakers, Todd Jones, talked about how the church should be a mountain and not a funnel.

Here’s what he meant: In most business models, an organization is a funnel in which a message is sent out to a crowd, then a community and then the committed. This is the paradigm espoused by the retail industry. Blanket the most people you can with your message, hone in on who is interested and then reach those who are wiling to buy what your are selling. In the model, the idea is going from large to small. Thus the visual is a funnel.

But in the early Church, a different organizational model was used: the mountain. A small number of committed people (the 12 disciples) spread the word about Christ to the community (those in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost) and then when that community was filled with the Holy Spirit, that community fanned out to the crowd (the people far and wide in Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, etc.). In this model, the trajectory is going from small to large, so the visual is a mountain.

Continue reading →

Finding The Heartbeat of Your Church

heartbeatIn an interview in the March 2018 Christianity Today, author and pastor Dominique Dubois Gilliard says, “It’s crucial to find the heartbeat of your church. Your church might have a heart for education. Or caring for children orphaned by the incarceration of a mother or father“ (p. 67).

I have seen this play out in the churches in which I have been a member. One program that may work in one parish will not work in another precisely because that is not where the heartbeat of that church lies.

I know churches in my community who minister to the deaf and have a sign language interpreter in worship. Another church has a minister for families with children with special needs, and makes activities available that cater to those families. International students meet for a Bible study at another church in the area.

Each of these is an example of how a church found their heartbeat and did something to keep that beat going.

So much in the church is about “the things we have always done.” But it is important to always take a step back and think about “the things we should be doing.” It is never too late to start a new program to tap into an energy and excitement among your people for a certain ministry.

In the self-help industry these days, there is a push for people to “find their passion.” The same can be said for our churches. Finding your passion as a congregation is important because focusing on that passion can build community and grow faith. People who are passionate about something get to work and are happy to be there. Isn’t that the type of people we want within our parishes?

Think about opportunities within your parish that you are sensing that people have heart and a passion for. Then keep that heartbeat going by offering more opportunities to serve in that area. The heart of God will be revealed in the process.

In the Style of Taizé

taizeFor those of you who may not know, Taizé is an ecumenical Christian monastic community in Taizé, Saône-et-Loire, Burgandy, France. Established in August 1962, it has become one of the world’s most important sites of Christian pilgrimage, especially for youth. The community is known for music that emphasizes simple phrases, usually from Scripture, repeated and often sung in canon.

I was recently at a concert in which the choir sang  a prayer of St. Teresa of Avila “in the style of Taizé.” The choir and then the audience sang the following words several times and in a round:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

The effect was very calming and soothing. Any problems I was having that day seemed to be washed away by the words being sung over and around me. God alone is truly all I need in this life, my soul heard loud and clear through that experience.

Shortly after that concert, I was worshiping at my church and the congregational responses to the prayers were sung “in the style of Taizé,” the bulletin noted. After each petition, the following words were sung:

O Lord, hear my prayer. O Lord, hear my prayer, when I call answer me. O Lord, hear my prayer. O Lord, hear my prayer. Come and listen to me.

The repetition of the words and the feeling of the words being sung by me and my brothers and sisters all around me was moving. I could sense the deep desire of the people to receive guidance from God and the constant drive for us to stay connected to God in prayer.

Songs and prayers should always be flowing from our hearts, if not our lips, over and over again throughout the day “in the style of Taizé.” Repeating meaningful words and Scriptures to ourselves can have a positive impact on our faith and life and actions. We have a tendency to forget things. But if we keep reminding ourselves of the good and gracious God we love who loves us in Christ and listens to us and cares for us, we can stay grounded in him.

Find a favorite Bible verse this week or a favorite hymn and speak or sing it several times “in the style of Taizé,” as part of your daily devotionals, and see how how your approach to the day’s struggles can be positively affected and spiritually grounded.

 

 

Positive Proximity

positive proximityThere’s a term in urban planning getting a lot of traction these days: positive proximity. The term refers to ways in which neighbors in a community work together in a positive manner to achieve a worthy goal. Revitalized main streets in small towns and parks in subdivisions have resulted from the positive proximity approach.

Churches can be a major player in the concept of positive proximity. Being a good neighbor as a church to the businesses around it can go a long way to build up feelings of goodwill and gestures of kindness down the road.

The church is never to be an island to itself on a street. It is meant to be a part of the action, a major contributor to the needs of those who dwell in the surrounding spaces.

How does this happen? Perhaps after a snowstorm, a church can arrange to have plow trucks clear the parking lots of neighboring businesses as well as their own. I think of a florist that sat next to my church in Cleveland, OH, whom we bought altar flowers from. The florist in turn allowed our church’s school to sell pumpkins for Halloween in their parking lot each October to raise money for ministry.

So many actions can seem so small, but they are really remembered. Just a simple wave to someone who is coming out of their home while you are coming out of church can bring a smile to that neighbor’s face. That neighbor then recalls that gesture when someone else asks about your church. “They’re nice!”

The driving force behind the positive proximity concept is that it can cause a chain reaction of random acts of kindness in a community. One wave can lead to a conversation about working together on a project to keep the sidewalks clean, which can lead to increased foot traffic to shops and storefronts.

It is important in positive proximity to be open and available. Think of the old model of rows of front porches in a neighborhood. Being out and about in front of your church can help neighbors to see that you care about the place you are in and you care about the community. Make a point to engage in conversations with those who walk by while you are putting a new message on your church sign, for instance.

I think of how Jesus was positive proximity in action. He did not stay inside all time during his life on earth. He was more often walking the streets, talking to people, finding out how things were with them and then helping and healing, as we read in Matthew 9:35:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.

That is our role as the church, too, to be the hands and feet of Christ and and not just the dwelling place of God in brick and mortar. Be a positive impact on a next-door neighbor to your church today.

 

The Pitfalls of Privatization

public private signsPrivatization is a social position that is becoming more and more prevalent in our society today. It is the philosophy of being noncommittal or uninvolved in anything other than one’s own immediate interests or lifestyle.

One of the greatest impacts of privatization on the Church has been the prevailing attitude that “Whatever you believe, keep it to yourself.” The result is that “it guts the energy out of the Great Commission and efforts to share the Gospel,” which are, of course, the main tenets of the Church (Schmidt, J. David, Choosing to Live).

Continue reading →

The Benedict Option

BenedictIn their March 2017 Christianity Today did a cover article on the Benedict Option and I was recently in an acquisitions meeting in which the Benedict Option was discussed. So I did some digging into the topic and here is what I found:

The “Benedict Option” means partaking in a communal withdrawal from the mainstream, for the sake of sheltering one’s faith and family from corrosive modernity and cultivating a more traditional way of life.

Now I am getting a better sense of why this concept is being discussed with more frequency as our secular society is tending to go more and more off course from traditional Christian values.

Continue reading →