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Participatory Anemia April 13, 2014

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This morning, as I heard of a church passing out volunteer surveys due to lack of participation, I began thinking about why so many churches suffer this, disease, if we can call it that. Participatory Anemia sounds fitting. Why is it that churches can’t get the help they need to run?

One key possibility is that the church model has changed from the relational organizations of days past, to a consumer driven model. Focused on the statistics, modern churches take their cues from the entertainment industry, playing chart-toppers in popular styles, using concert style lights, casting peers of the target demographic into high profile staff and volunteer positions like pastors, worship team members, etc. This brings in the people they want, and in numbers that make things look to be going well. But then those people get up, leave, and may or may not contribute a monetary donation for consumed services. Participatory Anemia sets in. Children and youth ministries, parking directors, tech teams, hospitality and other ministries find themselves overstretched and underequipped to fill the needs of the amassing number of consumers entering their care.

Another factor may be the frequency of which help is sought. If the church is only seeking help when they are desperate, the people who feel called to serve may not feel wanted until it’s too late. Waiting too long to post opportunities can result in a “we didn’t really want you, but now we need you,” feeling among those waiting for the chance to dig in and serve. Thus Participatory Anemia can occur due to leaders withholding opportunity.

Relational ministries can’t be closed or close-minded to volunteers. How many musicians are in your church band’s roster? How many are up front most every week? How many get rotated? What does it take to get in the band at your church? Open auditions? Invitation only? Maybe they don’t accept new musicians? In an attempt to provide the most entertaining and distraction-free atmosphere, many churches have a closed band or invitation-only policy. While this lends itself to the band becoming very close musically and relationally, it also fences out new blood and denies relationship opportunities. Those who are called to serve in worship ministries may find themselves called away from your church if you won’t use them, God will send them to one who will. God may cause Participatory Anemia if He sees his gifts being squandered due to fear of a fleeting mistake or the leadership’s lack of willingness to train and qualify the called.

When a local assembly of the Body of Christ is on level ground with one another, and new disciples, who have shunned the belief that they are righteous and know they are sinners, are brought forth from outreach endeavors, Participatory Anemia should go the way of ye olde reformist hymns that refer to “the bowels of God.” The Body will thrive with servants, and consumers will listen to their favorite songs on the radio or internet and consume the writings and videos of the likes of Joel Osteen and Adam Hamilton until they emotionally join the ranks of disciples who worship with their lives and not just attendance and cash.

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Church Leaders, Take Note April 1, 2014

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For years, church leaders have taught, and been taught, to plan services by starting at the end and working backwards. On March 31, 2014, the modern church’s target demographic revealed its feelings toward inorganic, backward planning when the hit sitcom How I Met Your Mother aired its series finale. The culmination of nine years, the series finale undid the character development of most main characters and forced the series to end with two main characters who’d outgrown each other coming back together over 20 years after they’d split. The outcry from fans was a resounding, “This is an April Fool’s Day joke, right? The Mother has been dead the whole time? He ended up with Aunt Robin?! It should have been called How I Settled for Your Mom.” These are a few among other, more colorful responses.

Now, I know you’re thinking, “But this is a show. This is nine years. How can that compare to a stand-alone sermon or even a seven week series?” Bottom line: you want the congregation to be invested in the service. They are the reason the service takes place. You want the congregation to leave service uplifted and assured, not confused because the ending was planned first and forced on them after the other elements presented led to greater things. For a few years, I attended a church where the service leader forced his interpretation of the sermon in to the end of service, typically skewing things from the presented material, presumably because when he heard the sermon title and read the scripture base, that’s what decided he wanted to say about the topic. It resulted in many weeks of me leaving service wondering why he had to say anything and if I really wanted to continue in that church. What you want it to be may be a fraction of what God could make it if you start from the beginning.

Self-satisfaction has become the mortal enemy of church leaders. Upon reading solicited feedback from the congregation, and discovering some were discontent with the preaching style of multi-week series, a pastor stated, “The only reason they said that was because they didn’t have to put their name on it. If I had their phone number I’d call them and tell them why I do it the way I do it.” If they miss a week they can listen to the podcast online whenever they want. Coming from a pastor who was so concerned with guests not feeling like outsiders during service, this was an insight to a self-serving leader much like the self-serving writers of How I Met Your Mother having to have it and end it a certain way, when their followers saw greater things develop.

In the end, those chosen to do God’s work have to reach the people God wants reached. And that’s ALL people. So don’t just say “Let someone else worry about them, this is what I feel like doing and saying and if they don’t like it then too bad.” Take it from the top and trust God to make it greater than anything you could come up with. Everything humans do is synthetic. Everything God does is organic and for His great glory, why would leaders want to settle for less just because it was their idea? You might be surprised who walks through those doors when the congregation is fed the organic instead of the synthetic, when they’re fed God instead of you.

The Greatest Gift We Have January 13, 2014

Posted by worshipconvergence in Christianity, Church, devotional, Leadership, ministry.
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This is not the result of some divine vision, where I was lifted to Heaven or shifted to another realm. This is not the result of a voice, plain as day, calling out of a bush or thin air. No, this comes from a tug at the heart of a worshiper, a heart that thought worship services were a collective display of approval, commendation, love, and adoration to God from His believers, not just His children, His believers; and that heart’s  experiences as a church staff member.

What’s odd, and by odd I mean disturbing, is how many Christians don’t see the problem, don’t see it as a problem, or deny it exists because it supposedly “works.” What is the problem? For one thing, “true and proper worship” is discipleship (Romans 12:1.) Worship and discipleship are supposed to happen within the believer regardless of circumstance or setting. Worship, as a gathered community, has certain Biblically inherent principles, such as returning the Word to God, singing praise to Him with gladness and bowing down in worship (2 Chronicles 29:30.) I’m sure people who make it through this reading and disagree will argue that I must also wish to include sacrifices and burnt offerings too, because that was also part of that 2 Chronicles passage. So I’ll state right now that no, those were made obsolete by Christ’s death on the cross. The new offering and sacrifice is your time and skill, heart, mind, soul, and strength: your love. Returning to the Romans 12 passage, self is the offering which is Holy and pleasing to God.

Problem- part 2: When did “go forth,” or as modern church calls it, “outreach,” become about how effectively you can get people to come to you? Many Church leaders claim a heart for seeking the lost, yet preach it from the pulpit (stage, to the modern church folk) on Sunday mornings and talk of it in meeting after meeting, leaving themselves little if any time to set the example. They spend their lives in havens of the found, where they know those they seek are not flocking. So, rather than meet them where they are, the example they set is to turn the church property and worship services in to magnets to attract the lost to them. This makes the non-believer and those new to the faith leaders in the church, whose opinions shape what is or is not worship (not that veteran Christians never make it about themselves.) It is written in 1 Timothy 3:6,

“They (church leaders) must not be new followers of the Lord. If they are, they might become proud and be doomed along with the devil.“

The leadership resource churchleaders.com has this to say of pride in the church,

“Unfortunately, many Christians and churches view their “brand” of Christianity as the only true or most true type of Christianity. They may not think they are the only Christians, but they do think they are the best or most right ones. This is a prideful and sinful attitude that grieves Jesus and dismembers His body.”

To segregate the Body, even just within the local assembly, because veteran Christians and/or new converts demand it be about them before they’ll attend the collective display to God from His believers, drips with pride like a tomato freshly cut with a butter knife. There are a whole lot of individuals in the assembly, but few members of His body.

If there’s one thing I believe the Church needs to be told, its found in Galatians 5:7-9,

“You were doing so well until someone made you turn from the truth. And that person was certainly not sent by the one who chose you. A little yeast can change a whole batch of dough.”

These days, the Church is so pridefully leavened, so fluffy and puffed up from the yeast of personal satisfaction and business-defined successes, that one can look through one side of the loaf to the other without obstruction – there’s so little Bread anymore, so many air holes like the space between a spider’s webbing. Its time for outreach ministers to GO forth, let go of the worship services, and seek those who know they are sick (Mark 2:17.) Instruct these people in the meaning of true worship, so when they come, they do so not as consumers, but as those who brought gifts to Emmanuel.

All it takes is the generations proclaiming through words or action, “Its about me, my pleasure, my satisfaction, my professional resume, and my sub-culture,” for the whole loaf to need started from scratch. Sadly, church leaders around the world who aren’t causing it are letting it happen.

Our selves: lovingly, unconditionally, and collectively offered, may well be the greatest gift His believers can commission. Who is willing to go in on that gift?