Why Attending Church Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

7.15.14Maybe you did it Sunday. Woke up, got the kids looking decent, scrambled out the door a little late, snuck into the church service a few songs into it, but at least you didn’t miss the main part (the sermon). Maybe you stay for the last song, maybe you sneak out early to beat the traffic (or just to avoid another awkward conversation with “Sister Betty”). In and out. Smooth. Clean. Hazardous to your health.

I would make the argument that attending church can be hazardous to your spiritual health. You attend shows. You attend ball games. You’re not supposed to attend church. When you attend something, you sit and watch as a spectator. If you like it, you offer some applause, perhaps you pay to get in or make a donation, but that’s as far as your involvement and commitment go.

The picture we see of the early church is just the opposite. They didn’t just attend church services, they did life together. They broke bread in each others homes. They got involved in each other’s lives. They gave to those in need. They sacrificed for each other. They practiced biblical community. They were the church for each other.

There is a difference:

  • Attending church is about you. Being the church is about us.
  • Attending church is about getting. Being the church is about giving back.
  • Attending church is about meeting your needs. Being the church is about also meeting the needs of others.
  • Attending church is about being entertained. Being the church realizes that you’re not the audience, God is.
  • Attending church stays skin deep. Being the church goes deep into the lives of those around you.
  • Attending church will eventually dry up your soul. Being the church will enrich your soul and those around you.
  • Attending church is easy. Being the church takes work.
  • Attending church is optional. Being the church is not.

Don’t settle for attending church this Sunday. Be the church.

7 Things You Can Do To Make This Week Different

7.14.14Small things can make a big difference. If you want this week to be a little (or a lot) different than last week, here are some small things that could have a big impact on your week.

1). Set your alarm (or set your alarm 30 minutes earlier). If your morning is a frantic last-minute race to get out of the house to get to work, or if you have the mornings off and like to see how long you can sleep in, change things up. Get up earlier, don’t be frantic and stressed before you even leave the house. Don’t sleep in. Decide that you want to be productive this week.

2). Declare a “TV Free” day. Pick a day where the tv doesn’t come on all day. Choose to let something else besides the media influence your thoughts and actions. Read a book, play a game, just keep the tv off.

3). Listen to the Bible on audio. As you’re on your commute, as you’re doing things around the house, plug in those earbuds and listen to the audio Bible on free apps like YouVersion. See what happens when you allow words of truth to wash over you and settle on your soul.

4). Exercise. Yes, you know you need to do it, so do it! Get out and go to the gym. Walk around the neighborhood. Do something. As you take care of your physical health, your mental, emotional, and spiritual health will benefit as well.

5). Help someone accomplish something. To momentarily break the power of selfishness, choose to help someone else accomplish something they need. Help them with yard work. Help them finish a project. Do something intentionally for someone else and not you.

6). Don’t be a slave to lists. Just live!

Five for Friday (7.11.14)

5Learning never takes a break! Here are five articles (plus a bonus video) to keep you learning through the weekend.

Is There a Pause Button for Parenting? - My thoughts exactly!

Six Things You Can Do To Improve Your Marriage – Always helpful words from Perry Noble.

An Acts 17 Moment: What Burger King Has Right About LGBT People - Great perspective for those with ears to hear.

10 Keys to Being a Great Employee – We could all benefit from this!

Why We Won’t Live In Heaven Forever – Just to blow your mind a little.

Bonus Video – the new trailer for Exodus: Gods and Kings is out, starring Christian Bale. Looks epic!

Why Jesus Was a Horrible Preacher

preacherOkay so the title was a bit of a tease, but at least you’re reading. Here’s my beef with seminaries today (I understand most of you reading this aren’t preachers, so we’ll chalk up this blog post to #PreacherProblems). The overwhelming way they are training new pastors to preach is verse-by-verse. (This approach preaches through an entire book of the Bible verse-by-verse, then picks another one and preaches through that. This style is in contrast with ‘topical,’ where preachers take a topic or theme and preach about it from Scripture). Verse-by-verse is the latest rage. I recently had a conversation with a seminary student on his preaching style. He said that he preached verse-by-verse, because that was the safest way to preach the totality of God’s word. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Noted theologian John MacArthur was subtle enough to write on the merits of verse-by-verse preaching and name his book “How to Preach Biblically.” Case settled, right?

My beef with verse-by-verse isn’t its form or function (I’m actually preaching verse-by-verse through Ephesians this summer, the first time I’ve preached verse-by-verse at Mt Vernon). My beef is the prevailing mindset coming from seminaries today that assumes that verse-by-verse is the only true way to preach, and all of us ‘topical’ guys are somehow mishandling the Word of God.

Here’s what I would say to that mindset: we never see Jesus preaching verse-by-verse. From our records in the gospels, Jesus was a straight ‘topical’ guy. You never see Jesus taking his disciples on a verse-by-verse exposition through the book of Leviticus. Rather, he’d pluck a verse or two from Old Testament scripture (Luke 4:18-19 is a good example) and expound on that. Even more frustrating for verse-by-verse folks, sometimes Jesus would teach simply by using stories (parables) with no Scripture involved. By today’s seminary standards, Jesus would have been a horrible preacher, reckless with Scripture and too cavalier in handling the holy texts. But as sacrilegious as it sounds, Jesus’ number one preaching goal wasn’t a verse-by-verse exposition of the Scriptures of the day. It was to teach people about and introduce people to his Heavenly Father. Jesus wasn’t a slave to verse-by-verse exposition, and neither should we be today.

QUESTION: Is there a ‘best’ way to preach? What’s your preferred style?

Kicking and Screaming Into Monday

7.7.14Monday came too soon. That glorious weekend, full of laughter, replete with memories, chocked full of leisure. But now it’s Monday, splashing you with the cold water of reality. Now it’s back to work. Back to the grind. Back to the real world.

If you’re like me, the temptation is to be dragged into Monday kicking and screaming, already looking forward to the next weekend, the next getaway, the next opportunity to relax and do nothing.

Today may be nothing miraculous. You may be shuffling paperwork, catching up on emails, at home with the kids. But even in the mundane, God can create something glorious. God loves to work in the quiet moments, taking ordinary encounters and turning them into something extraordinary. But we have to have eyes to see it.

Like a kid desperately holding onto the blankets when mom comes to pull him out of bed, some of us will be thrown into this week, whether we’re ready for it or not. We can sulk, we can daydream about memories past, or we can tackle this week head on and make something memorable of this opportunity called life.

Monday isn’t a throwaway day. This week is not a throwaway week. Others may be on vacation, having more fun than you, but you’re where you are. You’re at work. You’re with your kids. And God wants to do something glorious through you. There are lives that need to be impacted, spirits that need to be lifted, the name of Jesus that needs to be spread.

So if you’ve been dragged into Monday kicking and screaming, you’re here now. Go make something of it.

Repost: 601 Marbles

11.15.13

originally posted November 15, 2013

I have 601 weeks left until my oldest son Zeke graduates high school. I know that may seem like a lot, but when he was born I had 936 weeks. I’ve already lost a third of my time with him.

In his book Playing for Keeps, author Reggie Joiner makes a great suggestion to help parents visualize the amount of time they have left with their kids. He suggests that you get a glass jar and fill it with marbles, one marble for every week you have left with your child. Each week, take a marble out and throw it away. It will serve as a tangible reminder that the few moments you have with your children are precious.

So, I have three glass jars on my nightstand. One for each of my boys. Each Sunday, I take out another marble and throw it away. I don’t like it. It makes me a bit sad. But it’s incredible motivation for me. Every time I’m tempted to waste a day, watch a useless television show, or squander a weekend, I see the jars of marbles. Every time my boys want to play ‘rough’ and I’m not feeling up to it, every time they want to throw the football outside even though it’s freezing, every time they want me to take an interest in what they’re doing even though I’d rather be watching SportsCenter, I see the jars of marbles.

When I see the jars of marbles, it serves as a reminder that every week is precious. I’ve already lost a third of my time with Zeke. How I choose to spend the remaining time with him is up to me. I want to make every marble count.

To help calculate how many weeks you have left with your kids, download the free Legacy Countdown app from the App Store.

The Dechurched: A First Person Perspective

7.2.14Today’s guest post comes from Janet Adams. I’m grateful for her sharing her perspective on church.

I was born into a devout Catholic family and was expected to adhere to the Christian way of life. Every Sunday my parents (with great difficulty) herded us three pranksters to church. We would most probably doze off during mass and had to be prodded at regular intervals to listen to the Reverend. To be very frank for an 8 year old like me it was absolute torture to remain still. To listen to an old man drone on an on was quite boring to say the least. But I remember glancing up at my mother and seeing her dabbing her teary cheeks with tissue and wondering what all the fuss was about anyway.

I finished school and joined college. My roommate was a Catholic and used to read the Bible regularly and we would have a few discussions. I usually took an agnostic position, while he used to be a believer throughout. I could never understand the concept of God and the transactional relationship that most people had with him. To me a God that had to be beseeched to and praised at the drop of a hat was no better than an egoistic man. My roommate was of the opinion that just because other people do something does not mean that I have to do the same thing. I noticed that he was very different in his approach. He rarely went to church and yet was religious. It piqued my interest in God.

One Sunday, I went with him to the church. The Reverend gave a sermon on ‘trust’. It was a rather enlightening sermon. He waxed eloquent on how people trust God and forget that trust in God is in fact trust in oneself. He also told a story of two tight rope walkers who walked across two cliffs without a stick to help him keep his balance. He believed that his trust in God would see him through. It did not. He fell to his death. On the other hand there was another tight rope walker. He had deep belief in God but he carried a long pole to help him with his balance. He prayed, got on the rope and reached the other side safe and sound. The second man was aware that trust in God need not be blind. It needed an amount of logic.

Logic, I had never heard a pastor talk about logic. I realized that there was more to religion that what I knew. The pastor was well versed in theology and it was with his knowledge that he had told this story. I realized that religion was not bereft of logic. I decided to embark on a journey of discovery of my own and started reading my roommate’s copy of the Bible. A few months later, I was back at the church and after the sermon we rose for the choir. As the solemn notes of the Navy hymn wafted into the chapel I felt something stir deep within me. My eyes welled up with tears and I hastily wiped them away. I realized that religion was a personal experience, the authenticity of which could never be measured with the same yardsticks that are reserved for science and role of the church was in accentuating the experience for everyone.

 

Author Bio:

Janet Adams is a skilled writer who is a specialist in dissertation writing for the graduate/PhD students. Janet, by her writings, is looking to be one of the best writers and she has gotten good criticisms for her works. Janet is pursuing a Masters Degree in educational science from a reputed university.

What the Church Can Learn from Chuck E. Cheese

chuck_e_cheeseLast week my family took our semi-annual pilgrimage to the mecca of children’s experiences: Chuck E. Cheese. We didn’t just go there. We shut the place down. Three hours (and a fistful of tickets) later, we walked out of there full, victorious, and with a few cheap plastic toys that broke within an hour. But that’s beside the point.

On the drive home, I began to dwell on what elements in this restaurant would captivate the attention of my two-year-old for three hours. That’s quite a feat! (It’s also the only public restaurant we willingly take him to). The more I thought about it, I pulled out a few overarching principles that I think apply to the church:

1. It was fun. I say the words “Chuck E. Cheese” to my kids, and their eyes light up. Why? Because it’s fun. They get to run around, they get to play games, they have freedom to explore. Our kids would drag us to Chuck E. Cheese if they could. Fun isn’t a sin. Fun is fun. Is there an element of fun, of joy in our Children’s Ministries, in our churches?

2. It was interactive. Chuck E. Cheese is sensory overload for a kid. They literally impact all five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell). The kids don’t just sit and watch. They get up and do. They get to take part. A church will always better capture the hearts of children and families when those families get to do more than just “sit and watch.” Churches should work hard to engage all five senses.

3. It was simple. One token, one game. All games are one token. Simple enough for a toddler to understand. Some games were worth more, but for the sake of simplicity all games are one token. Simple sells. The lack of theological understanding and biblical foundation is only increasing with this generation. To reach them, we must start simply.

4. It was rewarding. My boys were laser-focused on winning those tickets. They didn’t just want to be entertained through the games, they wanted to win something. At church, how are we rewarding people? How are we enabling our people to participate in and celebrate the rewards of the Christian life? We should want them to know that all their sacrifice and hard work they’ve given to the church is worth it.

5. It was safe. My wife’s favorite aspect of Chuck E. Cheese was the check-in system. Our whole family got a unique stamp, and it was checked again before we went out. Our kids were safe to roam. That safety enabled my wife and I to enjoy the experience without worrying about our children’s safety. In today’s society, safety is king. A church must have a secure check-in system for preschoolers and children if they want to have any type of effective ministry.

QUESTION: What else can we learn from Chuck E. Cheese’s?

Celebrate Something Small Today

6.30.14I’ve just filled out the paperwork to start community college!”, she told me ecstatically. On the surface, those don’t look like words to throw a party over. I mean, it’s not like she got into Harvard or Yale. And she’s also 25, starting to get on the older side for college. If anything, she should be chastised for waiting so long.

But here’s why I celebrated with her, and here’s why you should to: she was a statistic, another example of someone who could not and would never be a productive member of society. She was an addict. When I met her, she had been in rehab seven times by the time she was 25. (Even addicts will tell you, seven times is a lot!) She couldn’t stay out of trouble. She couldn’t stay off of drugs. Others had given up on her a long time ago.

But this last rehab was different. She met Jesus and found a power she never had before. She got connected to a loving church where she grew in her faith. Some of our ladies came alongside her as surrogate moms and gave her the affirmation and guidance she’d been searching for. She went through the program successfully. It’s been a year and she’s still clean. She’s got a job, she’s got an apartment, and when she saw me she wanted to tell me she just filled out the paperwork to start community college. She had joy radiating from her face, and I did from mine as well.

She’s no longer a statistic. She’s a person with hope. Hope to reenter society as a normally functioning member. Hope to finally put this painful chapter of her life behind her. Hope to be a whole person again.

Community college may seem small, but to her it’s the world. What’s something small you can celebrate today? Another day still married? Another day of health? Another day to spend with your kids? Another day with food on the table? Take something small and celebrate it today. You’ll be glad you did.

QUESTION: What’s something small you can celebrate today?

The SBC Task Force Got it Half Right

Southern-Baptist-logoMuch of the news coming out of the SBC has been negative lately, with declining numbers and baptisms. (The only growing baptism age group is those under 5, because we don’t practice infant baptism, but apparently we’re great at toddler baptism). From 2013-2014 a Pastors’ Task Force was assembled to address the glaring fact that most Southern Baptist churches baptize almost no Millenials. They identified five problems and advocated five solutions (read their full report here). They got it half right. Their identification of the problem is spot on. Their solutions, unfortunately, are the same recycled ideas that got us here in the first place.

 

     We have a Spiritual Problem. Many of our SBC pastors and churches are not effectively engaged in sharing the gospel and yet continue business as usual. We need a sense of brokenness and repentance over the spiritual climate of our churches and our nation.

So far so good. Too many churches are stuck in the same patterns of traditionalism, neglecting effective evangelism. Their solution? “With urgency, we must join together in fervent and effective prayer for spiritual awakening in our churches and our nation.” Prayer here is a cop out! If the problem is business as usual, the answer isn’t to pray about it, the answer is to change things up! Prayer is easy, change is hard. We ran out of easy options awhile ago.

 

     We have a Leadership Problem. Many pastors have confessed to being overwhelmed in the operation and ministries of the church to the neglect of being involved in regular personal evangelism. This lack of leading by example is negatively impacting our church members’ engagement in personal evangelism.

Again, nailed it. Church ministries have become so complex and cumbersome that many pastors have no time or energy to engage in personal evangelism. Their solution? Try harder. “As pastors we must intentionally model and prioritize personal evangelism while providing clear pathways* for our congregations to follow.” What a discouraging solution! It’s telling pastors to work longer, try harder, keep going until you burn out. The right solution is to simplify the organization and structure of the church (i.e. legacy programs and activities that are no longer effective) to create more margin for the pastor to evangelize. If he’s stuck up at the church all week managing programs, telling him to “try harder” will only set up him for failure. (My favorite part of this solution is the *, which is a quick plug for NAMB’s latest one-size-fits-all evangelism tool, because the best way to meet Millenials’ well-documented search for authenticity is with another cookie-cutter evangelism strategy).

 

    We have a Discipleship Problem. Many pastors have confessed to focusing on attendance while giving little attention to reproducing fruit-bearing disciples who are involved in intentional evangelism.

True. Success in church nowadays is measured purely by attendance, with no thought to discipleship. Their solution is solid without being helpful. “As pastors we must create a disciple-making culture.” Okay, how are we supposed to do that? At least they didn’t urge us to add another program to our already overly-programmed churches.

 

     We have a Next Generation Problem. Although our churches have increasingly provided programs for children, students and young adults, we are not being effective in winning and discipling the next generation to follow Christ.

Again true. We have programs galore for kids and teens, but we’re still losing kids and teens. Their solution? More programs! “As pastors we must leverage our influence, activity and resources to reach and make disciples of the Next Generation. We must renew our focus on equipping parents and church leaders— challenging them to make the claims of Christ clear to the Next Generation.” Equipping parents is vital, but reaching the next generation isn’t as difficult as people think. That’s been my world for over a decade. I’ve been on both sides of it now: youth pastor and senior pastor, and am convinced that the first step to reaching the next generation is as simple as making a Sunday morning experience that the next generation actually wants to come to. Shoving them into next gen friendly programs while maintaining an archaic Sunday morning worship service will never effectively reach the next generation.

 

    We have a Celebration Problem. Many of our churches have chosen to celebrate other things as a measure of their success rather than new believers following Christ in baptism. We have drifted into a loss of expectation. 

This is the one problem/solution they got spot on. Baptism needs to be a truer celebration, not a quick ‘tack-on’ to the beginning of the service. “We must establish an ethos of joy that celebrates the practice of personal evangelism and its fruit.” Baptism needs to be a big deal. That’s why at Mt Vernon we video everyone’s baptism testimony and take time out during the middle of the service (not the beginning or end) to celebrate together.

 

All in all, I think they nailed the problems without offering fresh or effective solutions. It’s the same stuff our leadership has been saying for years: “Try harder.” We don’t need to try harder, we need to try something different. But since this is the best and the brightest that our denomination has put forth, I guess we’ll keep racking up those toddler baptisms for the foreseeable future.

**Full Disclosure: Last year, Mt Vernon (average attendance 350) baptized 6 Millennials. We’re not knocking it out of the park by any means, but those numbers would make us one of the more effective Southern Baptist churches when it comes to baptizing Millennials.