Monday, August 31, 2009

Serving The "After Church On Sunday" Crowd

Like you, perhaps, I have many family members who work in restaurant service. There is one thing they ALL agree on - they hate serving the "after church on Sunday" crowd. Maybe they're all grumpy because the pastor preached too long. Perhaps they're ticked off because someone cut them off in the church parking lot. Whatever the reason, many of the eatin-out-on-Sunday Christians are just plain rude!

Often pastors of large churches show up for lunch at a nice restaurant with their entourage in tow. The pastor talks loud, calls the waitresses "honey", and waves obnoxiously at parishioners as they come into the restaurant. These church leaders absolutely act like they are rock stars!

The older female Sunday costumer is one of the most feared among restaurant wait staff. They are picky and finicky, and oh so nasty if their order doesn't arrive in their idea of a timely fashion. I've heard of food getting sent back because it wasn't the expected temperature, wasn't presented as pictured on the menu, or many other minor infractions. Costumers have left evangelistic pamphlets, or "ask me about Jesus" business cards instead of a tip. The finicky tightly wound church ladies will sometimes leave a couple of quarters, or a few dimes for the tip on a pretty big bill. The rock star pastor, however, is often the worst tipper. They'll pay for the meals of their entire entourage, then leave a piddly couple-a bucks for the hard working server.

Listen servers are some of the hardest working people out there. They work long hours, are on their feet nearly all day, and have to smile no matter how rude the patron. They, like you, sometimes have a bad day. Many of them are supporting families and children and they depend on the tip money to put gas in their tanks, or food in the tummies of their babies. Your server may be looking for "something" to make their life worth while and maybe that something is Jesus. When you come in on Sunday dressed to the nines, your server KNOWS you've just come from church. Your witness to those workers begins the minute you pull into the parking lot. You are Jesus with skin on to your server. What does the picture you are painting look like to the single mom or young father who serves you your Sunday lunch? When you get off the pew - take Jesus with you. You might order up a steak AND serve up a good healthy helping of God to a person in need. Get off the pew!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely!

“Maria, you are on a dangerous path.” Today, several years after hearing those words on the other end of the phone line, the memory still stings. Maria had asked a question of a pastor and now she was being warned by an associate pastor to stop asking such questions! Unbelievable!

Absolute power corrupts, absolutely! Who among us would challenge that statement? I submit to you that none of us would! After all, we only have to look at politicians to see living examples of how power corrupts. Surely power and corruption never happens in the church…right? Well, we all know the answer to that question. Corrupt happens! Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Baker, Ted Haggard, Dr. Jeremiah Wright – these are high profile religious leaders whose names and less than flattering stories come immediately to mind. These men have corrupted their families, friends, and the reputation of God, His people, and His message. These men didn’t start out as powerful spiritual leaders, but like all of us, they started simply and quietly. As their ministries grew, their power grew. As their power grew, people around them stopped asking questions. The only way to avoid pride-fuelled corruption is to keep people close to you, and then give them permission to be honest and to hold you accountable.

Pastor H. had seen Maria’s gifts and talents in the area of the performing arts, and he had enlisted her help in growing the ministry in his church. There were several other people on the creative arts team, as well. Maria loved being a part of the team and these people were more than colleagues – they were friends. For several months before the phone call, however, there had been discontent stirring among the team members. Why is it that the choir and drama ministries in churches are always so full of…well…drama? Okay, that’s a whole other blog, for sure! Anyway, one day Pastor H. called Maria up and asked her to step down from the team. When she asked why he said, “I’m in charge and I don’t want you to make me feel like I’m in a box. This is my decision.” Maria wasn’t questioning the pastor’s authority, “but,” she said, “you’ve just made a decision about my life and my ministry and I want to know why.” “Because I’m in charge.” And, that was that.

It was soon after that conversation with Pastor H., that his associate, Pastor B. called Maria. “You are on a dangerous path. You should not question men in spiritual authority over you. This trend is very dangerous.” Um…. that could not be further from biblical truth! 1 John 4:1 tells us to “test the spirits and see if they are from God” because “many false prophets have gone out into the world”. Listen friend, if you’ve got a pastor who won’t let you ask “why”, that is a major red flag about the man and his ministry. He should be able to support his decision with scripture. Matthew 23:13 warns teachers and church leaders with these words, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” If Maria had been a baby Christian she might very well have walked away from God altogether. After all, when a religious leader says, “do this ‘cause I said so”, that’s really cult-like and I would advise any young Christian to run screaming from that leader, and into the arms of a more mature believer!

It would be several years before Maria learned the truth. It seems that one of the other creative arts team members was saying things behind her back and that team member eventually won the leadership position that Maria had once held. Maria not only lost a ministry she cared deeply about, but she lost a family she had trusted and loved.

Is there discontent on your church team? Settle it! Are you a pastor in leadership over a rowdy rag-tag group? Look, it is your job to seek the truth, follow the principles of reconciliation found in Matthew 18, and to teach your team to work together as one body. Is someone coming to you with suspicions or gossip about another believer? Remind both the gossiper and yourself of the truth found in 1 Samuel 16:7, “man looks on the outward appearances, but God looks on the heart.” I’ll go one further here – man can ONLY see the outside, God ONLY sees the hearts. Don’t make assumptions about your team members, as that’ll destroy a team faster than anything. Get of the pew! Be seekers of truth and peace!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sitting Next To The Walking Wounded

I learned yesterday that a woman who attends our church took her own life this past weekend. Mary was a wife, a mom, and a grandmother! She was struggling with deep depression and in the end – the loneliness and sadness won and she ended her pain in the only way she could. I guess…

This blog is called, “Get Off The Pew” because I wanted to challenge you and me to do just that – get off the pew, out of our comfort zone, and into the body where we can affect change and really touch people. Each Sunday I watch people come into the church and sit in the same pew, with the same group, week after week after week after week. A couple Sundays back I saw a woman count the pews as she came down the aisle – she had to make sure she got her seat! One Sunday morning several years ago, a woman came down to the second row of the mega church we attended and saw a stranger sitting in the pew where she and her husband usually sat. She tapped the shoulder of the lady sitting in that spot and said, “Excuse me, but this is our seat.” The visitor smiled and said, “Oh I’m sorry, I’ll move.” I wonder what went through the mind of the regular attendee when the stranger was introduced to the congregation as the wife of a new staff pastor!

I want to issue a challenge. This Sunday, shake things up a bit at your church. Sit in a different pew! That’s right – mix it up! Hey, if ya wanna get really crazy, attend the 9:30 service instead of the 8:00! Strike up a conversation with the people who regularly occupy a seat on the other side of the sanctuary. You might find a new friend. You might find someone who is terribly lonely and sad, and who is just dying for someone to sit next to her and give her a reason to hope. The walking wounded are all around us! Who knows, you might end up sitting next to someone like Mary – and maybe, just maybe, your touch will be enough to keep her from killing herself. Get off the pew. Get off YOUR pew!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Church Cyber-bullies

A friend stopped me at church yesterday to share her frustration and fear. A bit of second hand information reached the ear of one of the church gossips, and she has decided to give my friend a piece of her mind. In today’s world juicy gossip can be spread among friends and enemies alike in a matter of a few nanoseconds, thanks to email, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, blogs, etc…. A few words sent out into cyber-space can bring giggles and joy, or they can inflict pain and needless suffering. My friend is experiencing the latter and she is being cyber-bullied by a member of the church family!

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center (yes, there is such a place!) cyber-bullying can be identified as, “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” Cyber-bullying has grown to epidemic proportions in the United States. You may remember a Missouri mom who was charged with several felonies when her Myspace Internet hoax resulted in the suicide of a 13-year-old girl. The mom was eventually convicted on several misdemeanors, but that doesn’t change the fact that the grown woman is a cyber-bully whose cruelties lead to the death of a child! When a church bully goes after a fellow parishioner, there is rarely any real consequence because everyone encourages grace. More often than not, the innocent victim leaves the church and the bully wins!

A woman who calls herself a “Christian”, has been posting hateful messages to my friend’s Facebook in-box. The Christian has taken a very pious position and is calling my friend names and has even threatened to go the church leaders to let them know “the truth”. I say, “Bring it on”. Many of us have been bullied by the name-calling and rock-throwing of loud church Pharisees. These stone-throwers are very often masters at manipulating scripture to prove their own misguided point, and they confuse their victim by misusing God’s word. In Matthew, chapter 4 we read that Jesus was tempted by Satan. Satan said in verse 6, "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: " 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' But Jesus also knew scripture and He wasn’t going to allow Satan to twist God’s word to scare Him into doing something that was outside of God’s will for Him. Verse 7 - Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'

Matthew, chapter 18 gives clear instructions on how to handle knowledge of wrong doing (sin) of a fellow believer. We are to first go to the person privately and express our concerns. Then, if there is no resolution, we take someone with us to bear witness to what is being said. If there is still no resolution, we are to go the church, and if the church can’t resolve things – we wipe their dust from our feet and move on.

My friend is being accused of something that NEVER HAPPENED!! Gossip is a TERRIBLE thing and it eats through people and churches like piranha on a gold fish! So, the gossip wants to “reveal” my friend to the church leaders? Bring it on! If, however, my friend can convince the church piranha to follow the instructions of Matthew, chapter 18, then she will have won a friend and spared others from suffering the same kind of stoning. Get off the pew and put an end to church gossip and spiritual piranhas! Come on people…Get off the pew!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Kickin' Kids Out of Church?

David and Katie were an average family with three kids who were just going about the daily routine of raising their growing family. David and Katie had been Christians all their lives, and were raising their children in the church. All three of the children were dedicated to the Lord by a pastor the family loved. A child dedication is a very special celebration in Christian churches all over the world, wherein parents promise to raise their children in the ways of the Lord, and the church promises to support the family emotionally, and prayerfully. David and Katie loved their church family and trusted their pastor and friends with all their hearts.

David and Katie’s oldest son, Michael, had always been a difficult child. He was burdened with ADHD and he seemed to have little control over his impulses. Katie was often exhausted and overwhelmed. She remembers picking 5 year-old Michael up from Sunday school one day and the teacher just looked at her and said, “Michael was very bad today. Michael, tell your mommy how bad you were today.” Over the years Katie would often be stopped in the hallway at church, where people would say things like, “I heard you don’t believe in spankings. Michael needs a good spanking”, or “I heard you let Michael watch ‘The Power Rangers’. That show is making Michael crazy”. Katie was broken over the fact that her child seemed to be the subject of gossip. The odd thing was, Katie DID believe in spankings, and she diligently monitored what the children watched on television. They didn’t watch “The Power Rangers”.

One day when Michael was 14 years old, the Junior High Pastor at the church called Katie into his office. He sat across the desk from Michael’s mom and said, “I’ve given Michael chance after chance and all he does is bite me in the butt. He's too hard. Please don’t bring Michael back to our services again.” Katie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Is that what Jesus says…’You're too hard, and I’ve given you chance after chance’?” The pastor pointed his finger at Katie and said, “Don’t you throw Jesus in my face!” Where were the people who had stretched their arms forward and prayed over this child when he was just a baby? There were no prayers, there was no support – there were just words, “don’t bring him back”.

Michael floundered over the next few years and eventually ended up trapped in a cycle of drug addiction and jail. He eventually went to prison.

How can we keep this kind of thing from happening to another family? Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” I believe this scripture is not only about WHAT to teach, but HOW to teach. Train a child up in the way HE should go – according to his bent – and the truth will live in him forever. If a child is an athlete, get him involved in Fellowship of Christian athletes. If your daughter is a dancer, start a dance troupe at your church (yes, I said “dance” and “church” in the same sentence).

If you know a mom who is struggling to raise a special needs child, get off the pew and pray with her, give her an afternoon off, or just call her up once in a while and give her a chance to just talk. You know the kids who hang out in the parking lot of the church on Tuesday night before the High School mid-week service smoking their cigarettes? Get off the pew and go hang out with them. They are fringe kids, but they’re reaching out. Reach back! Are you a children’s pastor, or youth pastor at your church? Remember that every day may be the day that a child makes a choice – the choice to serve God, or the choice to walk away. You are there. Get off the pew and make a difference in a child’s life…or in the life of his frazzled mom!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I'm a sinner. There, I said it!

Okay, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we KNOW we are not perfect. Christians are not perfect. There, I said it out loud. If you ask the question, "what is a hypocrite", most non-believers will say, "Christians!" Why do you suppose that is? No doubt we could debate that questions for blog-eons, but the simple truth is we don't practice what we preach - plain and simple. We are human. We are imperfect. We know we're not without sin, the unbeliever knows we're not without sin, so why is it that we can't say, "I know that you know that I know, so I'm gonna stop pretending that you don't know!" Romans 3:23 says, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". All! Okay, let's say it together..."ALL have sinned". That means you and me!

I have found that one of the greatest stumbling blocks in our evangelism is that the unchurched see the sometimes awful way we treat one another. Oh sure, it's easy to love the drug addict, the homeless wino, or the Africa orphan. After all, they need Jesus and we want them to know Jesus. But when it comes to loving and caring for the other members of the body of Christ...well, that can be a real challenge. What was the last thing Jesus did with His disciples before He went to the cross? He washed their feet! John, chapter 13 lays out the story beautifully. Jesus wasn't afraid to deal with the real dirt. So often, when the lives of the people in the pew next to us get messy and dirty, we move to another pew. We cut off the body parts, just when they need us to pump life saving blood into them. Jesus didn't do that! Jesus walked right up to the dirt and the mess, and washed the feet of the disciples. Then Jesus, in verse 14 says, "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another's feet".

In this blog I want to bring into light that which has been hidden in darkness - the fact that churches, temples, and synagogues are filled with dirty, messy people, who just like me, have been saved by grace. Ephesians 2:8 tells us it is "by grace you are saved, through is a gift of God". 1st Corinthians 4:5 says, "He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive His praise from God." Let's shine a light on the fact that we are ALL sinners and that we do not think ourselves to be higher than anyone else. We just want as many people as possible to know about the awesome gift of salvation. We want the world to know that we are just like them - sinners!!!

Come on, who's with me? Get off the pew and tell your story. Were hurt by another believer? Were you cut off just when you needed the body to love on you? Did someone push you off the pew or out the doors when they discovered your life was messy or dirty? Let's shine a light on something that's been kept a secret in most churches...we are SINNERS! The good news is we are SAVED sinners. That's worth shoutin' about. Get off the pew!