Dress for the Job, Pastors! #0686 by Paul Walters

Pastors need to stop dressing like slobs. I am so tired of going to clergy meetings in the middle of the work day and encountering other clergy dressed like they were interrupted in the middle of some home plumbing repair or gardening adventure and only stopped off at the meeting on their way to the hardware store.

Don’t be a slob.

Pastors complain about the lack of respect they encounter in the world around them, and yet for some reason faded blue jeans and t-shirts are equated with work clothing.

Every day cannot be casual Friday.

Maybe that is stating things too strongly, but when the phrase, “Dress for the job you want not the job you have,” is part of our common understanding maybe pastors should sit up and take notice.

I understand there is a wide variety of styles of dress out there. I realize different parts of the country have different dress codes. I realize not every denomination has a tradition of wearing clerical collars.

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Still, there has to be a line in there somewhere. Yes, the culture is tending to dress more casually. Yes, every church now seems to have a logo embroidered on a polo shirt. But should pastors really just look like the came off the sales floor at the local Best Buy or Staples?

Everyone has their own style and their own look. Everyone has their own way of dressing. No, the clothes should not matter one bit. But they do and they always will. People will judge you based on your clothing every single time. You might not like it. You might think they are wrong for doing that. You might even be correct.

But it does not matter at all.

Your clothes matter.

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And when your clothing gets in the way of the gospel, when people’s response to your dress is strongly negative, they are not going to be open to hearing much about Jesus.

Your clothing makes a statement to the world around you.

So what do your clothes say? What do you want your clothes to say?

So what are you going to wear to work tomorrow?

Why Crushing Legos is Bad Parenting #0571 Jennifer Clark Tinker

Love is patient.

1 Corinthians 13:4

 

Confession: whenever I see my son’s Legos on the floor I have the urge to step on them and crush them underfoot just to make the point that he needs to pick up his toys. I’m pretty sure that’s terrible parenting, but the thought goes through my head. Every. Single. Time.

Is my 10 year-old son old enough to take responsibility for his own toys? Of course he is. It’s just that angrily destroying his belongings isn’t the best way to instill a greater sense of responsibility in him.

There’s a term for behaviors like crushing Legos just to teach a lesson. It’s called being “passive-aggressive” which basically means you don’t address the person or problem directly, but you do or say something indirect that undermines the person or situation.

Passive-aggressive behavior is never a good idea in any relationship–parenting included. Here’s why:

  1. It isn’t actually addressing the problem in a way that is likely to get the desired result.
  2. Quite often, it is so subtle as to get no result.
  3. In many cases passive-aggressive behavior makes the situation worse.
  4. It just isn’t nice.

So, if it is such a bad idea, then why do I want so badly to crush those crazy bricks to bits? Well, honestly, because it is easier to avoid addressing it head on. Because really, the problem is bigger than just a few Legos left out.

You know the old adage, “a place for everything and everything in its place”? Well, there isn’t actually a place for everything–let alone all the Legos–in our home.

There are a lot of reasons why there isn’t a place for all the Legos.

  1. My son’s room is still half-filled with boxes from our move two years ago.
  2. It is hard to find good Lego storage methods that work for us.
  3. My husband and I probably let our son have too many Legos and it is hard to find places for that many.

If you’ll notice, all of those problems are due to factors that are at least in part my responsibility. So, to actually address the Legos left on the floor problem, I would have to take responsibility.

It’s important to me as a parent to own my responsibility in the situation. It would be way easier just to get angry and blame and shame my kid for the problem. But it’s not fair and it’s not nice and it doesn’t solve anything.

I’d love to be able to sit here and tell you that since I know I’m part of the problem, I am going to mend my ways and be part of the solution. But really, really, really, clutter just makes me want to run and hide.

I hope to make progress over time and work with my son to find solutions, but I will be patient with him as I need him to patient with me.

It’s not easy being the grown up.

But I am the adult, I am the parent! I don’t want to be a bad parent, so even if I’m not the best at all the details, I won’t actually crush the Legos when I find them on the floor.

 

Disclaimer: No Legos were crushed in the digitization of the photograph that appears with this post. It was staged for illustration purposes only.

 

Homeschooling Pros & Cons #0559 Jennifer Clark Tinker

We’ve been homeschooling our 10-year-old son since he was in the 2nd grade (he was in public school for Kindergarten and 1st grade). Yesterday a ministry colleague asked me about the pros and cons of homeschooling. I thought it was an excellent question and thought it might be helpful to share my thoughts more widely.

Overall the pros outweigh the cons for me, which is, of course, why I’ve chosen to homeschool. Still, I’ll try to present both sides as best I can.

Pros

  • Individualized Study Plan: We get to tailor everything to our kid and his learning style and unique interests. If he excels in something we can let him soar in that area. If he is “behind” in some areas we can decide how/when/if we want to get him “caught up.”
  • Flexible Time Off: We enjoy the flexibility homeschooling gives our family. Especially since we’re a ministry family and we work on weekends and holidays, we enjoy having a weekday off together as a family and getting to take vacations when we choose.
  • Quantity of Time: Quite simply, we get more time with our kid. Our window of time with him is so short before he will be all grown up and out of the house. Homeschooling gives us lots of opportunities to spend time with him, bond with him and make memories with him.
  • On the Scene: I’m aware from my own experience as a public school kid how very much goes on in a school day that parents never know about and kids don’t think to tell parents about. Some of this is trivial, inconsequential stuff, but sometimes there are incidents at school that can shape a kid for better or worse. As a home educator I am on the scene with my kid and more likely to get to be in loving, parental conversation with him about what’s going on in his life.
  • The Good and the Ugly: When my son was in public school there was a lot of homework—in K & 1st grade! Our battles over his homework were the worst kind of ugly. I figured if I was going to have to spend a couple of hours fighting with him about schoolwork anyway, I might as well bring him home so I can can enjoy the fun parts of the school day too.
  • Groups: We have enjoyed some extraordinary bonding with other homeschool families through homeschool groups we’ve joined. Our son and we have all formed/reinforced lasting friendships through these groups.

Cons

  • Planning: It’s not difficult, but it does take effort to decide on curriculum and approach to homeschooling. There are more options than ever before for home education and it takes time to research the choices and make a decision.
  • Legal Considerations: Homeschooling rules and regulations vary by state. Home educators are responsible for knowing and following their state’s specifications. For example, some states require home educators to submit an educational plan each year, some require annual assessment.
  • Balancing Act: As a homeschooling mom who also works at home, scheduling time for his work and mine gets tricky. I try to take a big picture view on his educational goals so I don’t make myself crazy if I need to take a break from his schooling to meet a deadline of mine.

This list is strictly my opinion. Different homeschool families will have slightly different pros and cons about their experience. Overall, we have been very happy with our decision to do school at home.

How are you choosing to provide for your child’s education? What are the pros and cons of your choice?

Why I’m Ambivalent about Mother’s Day #0532 Jennifer Clark Tinker

Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday. I’m a mom–it’s my day! So why do I have such a hard time getting into it?

Okay, in fairness to all the other moms out there, my own mom, included (Hi Mom, Thanks for always reading & listening to my work!), Mother’s Day isn’t just my day. But the part of it that is about me has always come with a complex set of emotions.

 

Infertility Angst

I am a mom now, but it took a long time to have my one and only child because of my history of infertility. And despite doing nothing to prevent pregnancy since my son was born 10 years ago, I still have only been able to have one child. It’s a reality sometimes called “secondary infertility” which is when you already have one or more children and then experience infertility.

I go back and forth about whether I want more kids. Mostly I do.

But then I daydream about my other goals in life and feel like I could be okay without going through the hands-on baby & toddler stages one more time. I’m starting to get somewhere with my writing and speaking and it takes time to churn out the words, prepare talks, and make connections–having another small child would make it harder to fit it all in.

But I can’t help it…I want another baby. I don’t know how I would make it all work. We’d definitely need some more hands on deck here at Life & Liberty. And I would have to choose wisely the writing and speaking opportunities that I accept.

But I want another baby.

But it’s not happening. And that takes me to a painful place. I ache to think I won’t be able to hold another baby in my arms, to expand my family.

I know, I know, I should be grateful that I have one child. And I am. I really am. You can’t know how much I am. I can’t imagine my life without him.

But I also pictured having a few more kids around too.

The pain of secondary infertility is different from the pain of one who has no child at all, but it is still real for those of us in this place. So, I often approach Mother’s Day with a hint of lament–mourning that I don’t have the big family I always thought I would have.

 

Stupid Depression

In addition to my history of infertility, I also have a history of depression. And that also factors into why Mother’s Day is hard for me.

Before I was able to have my son, that time of infertility was very dark for me. I spent a lot of time being mad at God, and being mad at my body.

The most difficult questions for me spiritually were about God’s will as it relates to me being a mom. I had always thought I would have a lot of kids, but then found that I couldn’t. I wondered whether God was purposefully keeping me from having children because I wasn’t good enough to be a mom.

I worked through those questions with a lot of prayer and supportive Christian community and eventually was able to hear God’s comfort that he loved me no matter what and that he was not punishing me with my infertility.

In many ways, this assurance of God’s love in my life was as much a miracle as the birth of my son.

Fast-forward to when my son was born and I hit rock-bottom with postpartum depression. I struggled to bond with my son in those early months and I felt tired all the time.

I felt awful for not being more enthusiastic about mothering. And it was as if all of my worries about not being good enough to be a mom were coming true.

I emerged from the worst of the postpartum depression with the help of medication, therapy, and an amazing husband.

But my ongoing issues with depression continue to mess with my head and my confidence in my parenting still wavers.

I know that comparing myself to other moms is a trap and there is no such thing as a perfect mom. But with all the superlatives and poetic expressions extolling the virtues of mothers on Mother’s Day, I am left feeling like I don’t actually deserve to call this day mine.

See how stupid depression is?

 

Thanking You Kindly

All the same, this is my day because, well, I am a mom.

And I rejoice that I have my sweet son despite my infertility. I am a mom because of him.

And I know my family doesn’t expect me to be super mom and they love me for exactly who I am. In my better moments I like to think that I am the best possible mom for my particular kid.

My depression sometimes makes it easier to give than to receive praise. Sometimes I have to consciously make myself say “Thank You” when someone says something nice to me.

So, as Mother’s Day approaches, despite my doubts about whether I deserve to be celebrated, I plan to be grateful for the day.

 

Small town Texas Christian speaker, writer, and all-around creative type, Jennifer Clark Tinker is a Lutheran Deaconess, mom to a son, wife to a Lutheran pastor and emerging communication talent. Jennifer is our “Journalist of the Heart” and Editor-in-Chief here at Life & Liberty.

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41 (Surprising) Things Not in the Bible #0386 How many can you guess?

The List of 41(+):

As of today (October 1, 2014) we are actually up to 62.

  • Angels with wings (there are angels but no mention of wings). Or that people become angels when they die. And would you believe the angels are not singing at the birth of Jesus, but rather just speaking? And yes, seraphim (the “burners”–Flame on!, plural form of “seraph”) have wings, and no, the Bible never identifies seraphim as angels. Ditto cherubim (plural of cherub), who are intimidating beasts in the Bible, but turned into fat, naked, winged babies on the walls of Italian churches. Find me one place that says seraphim (burners) are angels (messengers). I’m waiting….
  • Any female angels at all in the Bible. In both biblical languages, spiritual masculinity comes out of heaven and femininity comes out of earth. Ruach/Malkuth/Shekhinah (feminine), form the connection between the two. Kinda like the Christmas song “let earth receive her king—let heave and nature sing.” Female angels are found mostly in gift shops on earth, and of course, with wings. Gabriel (GBR-i-El) is literally, in Hebrew, God’s intimidator. Hardly a precious moments statue.
  • The devil with horns and a pitchfork (there is a devil but no red skin, horns or pitchfork)
  • Any account of a battle at Armageddon. They gather for battle, but does the Bible say that anything happens? Have a look. I once had coffee at the Armageddon truck stop in Israel. Yes, it’s a real place and you can get gas there.
  • A singular apocalyptic Antichrist figure (used in plural by John) and….
  • Anywhere that says any singular Antichrist is the “Beast” of Revelation
  • That people mocked Noah for building an ark. By the way, seven (!) pairs of many animals were taken into the ark–not just two by two.
  • Jesus being the reason for the winter season. We’re not sure what time of the year Jesus was born. December 25 to January 6 (Epiphany) was just a beautifully symbolic guess.
  • The word or even the concept of a “halo.”
  • Any prohibitions against certain kinds of peripheral “cuss” words. Taking the name of the LORD (YHWH-יהוה) in vain is specifically mentioned and forbidden in the strongest terms. Cursing (but that was literally cursing people and things, not just dropping salty adjectives) is prohibited in the book of James. But throwing in occasional H, S and F words (although I don’t use them) is not specifically prohibited.  Only the Old Testament forbids taking the name of יהוה in vain; there is no equivalent prohibition of the expletive use of Jesus’ name (or Christ).
  • Any encouragement to celebrate Advent or Lent. Or even any mention of them.
  • Any English version of the Bible with God’s pronoun capitalized. (i.e. “He”). Let alone the original versions that didn’t have an upper-case/lower-case writing system at the time.
  • Any mention of birth control (Although there is plenty of encouragement to have children).
  • The idea that God literally calls us to “be our brother’s keeper.” Cain simply asks it of God: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
  • Any mention of the New Testament church celebrating Ash Wednesday or any biblical suggestion to do so in the future.
  • An apple in the Garden of Eden (only fruit)
  • Any suggestion that clergy should perform marriages, or that a wedding is anything but a family/community reception/feast. Old Testament priests never perform weddings that we can see anywhere in the Bible.
  • The Bible says that those who have sex before marriage should indeed get married. And that once you join with someone in that way, there are permanent consequences. But a strict, specific prohibition against cohabitation before marriage is hard to find, and all of we youth pastors would like to have had it handy. Courtship-betrothal-marriage customs in the Bible do not mirror our own very well, so it’s hard to know exactly how that worked. My guess is that premarital chastity was expected and assumed (for property and disease-prevention reasons) and thus not explicitly mentioned.
  • For that matter, any ordained clergy in the early church at all. Jesus and Paul were lay preachers who learned crafts. The former was a stone contractor (tekton). The latter likely supplied tents to the Roman army.
  • Any in-the-Bible explanation as to how we switched from worship on Saturday (Sabbath) to Sunday. Quite a historical mystery with a lot of speculation…
  • That Jesus was a (just a poor) carpenter. Inaccurate English translation of the original “tekton” (builder/contractor); likely with stone.
  • Any sense that communion, baptism, “sin management so we can get to heaven someday,” etc. were central to Jesus’ teaching. He did mention these things, but clearly his core teaching was always about Malkuth (Kingdom–the Creator’s creative and sustaining power in the universe). And his main purpose seemed to be to convince us to have the faith to share and operate in this power. The Kingdom is like unto a mustard seed…
  • The fish which swallowed Jonah identified as a whale (just a fish).
  • Jesus uttering the word “grace.”
  • Any word for “faith” (as we understand it) in the Old Testament.
  • Discipleship. A made-up word based on a military, Latin mis-translation of “mathetes” (students).
  • Any clear doctrine of Original Sin, let alone “total depravity.” Sure, there are proof texts you can find to support it, but there is tension with the fact that we are made in the Image of God, fearfully and wonderfully made, and “behold God saw that it (humankind) was very good.” There’s tension there.
  • Shepherds and wise men visiting the baby Jesus at the same time (wise men came way way later). Or that the number of wise men was three. I just saw this error (three wise men walking thru the shepherds to visit Jesus in the manger) watching the movie Ben-Hur last night! Most people ignore the fact that Magi are Zoroastrian holy people.
  • Anything that specifically says Jesus was single. No evidence either way. Very few ancient records of any famous people bother to mention spouses.
  • The fact that we live in heaven forever. No matter what your end times view, we end up on a renewed earth at the end (See the end of Revelation). Heaven is at best a way station in the Bible to our ultimate destiny.
  • Any suggestion that we should dress up for church
  • Any prohibition of gambling
  • Any record of a vote in the early church. They’d rather cast lots for big decisions ;-). Nor any votes at congregational business meetings.

  • Any sense that “liturgy” is on the Creator’s short list. Jesus never even mentions any “order of worship.” Mostly just “on the road” informal outdoor ministry.
  • Any overwhelming proof that Jesus was poor. Most evidence suggests the opposite.
  • Any mention of Mary remaining a virgin after Jesus’ birth
  • Any direct mention or description of an abortion. Or comment upon the issue. (For the record, I am very pro-life, but that’s beside the point)
  • Any record of a “confirmation class” or “confirmation ceremony.” Ditto first communion.
  • Any direct linking of Mary Magdalene being a prostitute or woman of ill-repute. Ditto any direct mention that Herodias’ daughter was doing any kind of suggestive dance.
  • Anyplace where the original languages of the Bible say that a person is “possessed” by an evil spirit. It usually just says a person “has” an unclean spirit or something like that. We have unclean spirits. They don’t “have” us. Most modern translations which use the word “possessed” were published after the movie The Exorcist.
  • Any specific mention of transgenderism, although men and women are forbidden from wearing each other’s clothes. Sorry, Boy George.
  • Any sense that Jesus wanted the government (Caesar) to take care of the poor. That would be our job.
  • Any record of anything Jesus said in his native language (Aramaic) except for “Abba,” “Talitha Kumi,” “Raca,” “Mammon,”  “Jot and Tittle,” and “Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani” His teachings and sayings were written down by Greek speakers.
  • Anyone praying with hands folded
  • Pews or Pulpits
  • “God helps those who help themselves.” That would be Benjamin Franklin, not God.
  • “God will never give you anything you can’t bear.” Obviously not true in real life. God only knows where it came from.
  • “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” That would be Francis Bacon, not the Bible.
  • Any suggestion that churches should be decorated with crosses, outside or inside. Or that there should even be church buildings at all.
  • Any blanket prohibition of drinking alcohol
  • Any prohibition of consciousness-altering through external or internal means. Drunkedness is discouraged; but never controlled altered states. We alter our consciousness through prayer, going to movies (an induced vision), reading imaginative books, running (endorphins), and using coffee. John was in a serious altered state seeing the vision in Revelation. Ditto Ezekiel in his prophecy. Ditto Paul (who wasn’t even sure if he was in his body or not).
  • Any mention that church leaders should wear different clothing than the regular peeps (clerical collars, robes, etc.)
  • Anything that says church music should be reflective, subdued, or played on an organ. (See the loud clashing cymbals in the Psalms–with trumpets and shouts)
  • Anywhere that says women can’t wear pants (pants aren’t mentioned at all) or use makeup
  • Any mention that women should work at home (see Proverbs 31)
  • Any specific “age of accountability” for baptism. Or even the concept.
  • Any command that baptism has to be by submersion. Paul was baptized in a home which likely had no running water.
  • Of course, only people in the New World were smoking tobacco; a substance and behavior totally unknown to the writers of the Bible. And using “your body is a temple” to forbid smoking would also outlaw junk food if you wanted to be specific.
  • Any mention that there should be separate “departments” in the church for kids (Sunday School), youth groups, or men’s and women’s ministries
  • The word or explicit description of a holy Trinity
  • Elijah taken up in a chariot (he was taken up in a whirlwind)
  • God changing Saul’s name to Paul (Paulos, or “shorty” was just his Greek trade/business nick-name). Imagine: “O Saul, from now on thou shalt be named….Shorty!”
  • The word “wine” associated with the “cup” in the Last Supper. Fruit of the vine is probably wine, but the Bible does not make the explicit connection.
  • Jesus’ command to baptize mentioning water (could be Spirit baptism–See Mark 1:8)
  • The “rapture” mentioned anywhere in the book of Revelation
  • Anything mentioning that Jesus had long hair (or a beard)
  • The phrase “personal relationship with Jesus.”
  • Any record of anyone ending a sermon in the Early Church inviting people to receive Jesus into their hearts (the altar call perfected by Finney over a century ago)

Here are some of the biggest errors in Bible interpretation:

  • The mistake that “description is prescription.” Since Jesus “came up out of the water” (description), baptism by immersion is commanded (prescription).
  • Inference equals explicit command. You can make an argument that the Bible infers a trinity (and I am a trinitarian, by the way), but the word is never used nor is the concept explained in even the most basic ways. The Bible doesn’t connect the dots. We have to. But our “dot connecting” is not equivalent to an explicit Bible text.
    • Thus implicit does not equal explicit. My list is a list of things NOT explicit in the Bible.
  • An unfounded equating of terms. E.g. “seraphim are angels.” Perhaps in your world this is true, and you are welcome to believe it; but the Bible uses different words here for different kinds of beings.
  • “You can’t disprove it!” (e.g. that seraphim are angels). “You can’t disprove/prove it” only works (and it works well) if you are trying to start a conspiracy theory. E.g. “You can’t prove men landed on the moon.” I’m just stating a list of things that the Bible simply does not explicitly teach. They may be true, but not because “the Bible tells me so.”

Perhaps you can add some more in the comments below.

Or if you can prove me wrong, say so (ditto in the comments).

Please pass this link on to others. Fun discussion starter in a group setting. Or a good church newsletter article (you have permission to print it as long as you mention the site http://ThornHeart.com). Shortlink to share (copy and paste it): 

        http://tinyurl.com/lzoeo43

I’m not politicking against any of these things in the list above, per se. Just inviting you to join us at Robinwood Church where we teach what is actually IN the Bible. And there is plenty to keep you growing spiritually for a lifetime. Click on our logo for more:

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Elf on the Shelf #0310 Life & Liberty

Why the Elf on the Shelf is Evil and Must be Destroyed!

Have you heard of this crazy Elf on the Shelf thing? What fool started this nonsense? You get this creepy looking elf doll thing and tell your kids this scary little imp is watching and reporting everything they do to Santa. As if Santa and his Naughty or Nice List weren’t enough.

AUDIO VERSION by PAUL WALTERS:

Just to give the illusion to the kiddos this thing is alive and active at night, like some crazed hamster that sleeps all day long hidden under bedding and spends the entire night grinding away on his wheel, you move the elf around the house after the kids are all fast asleep. And the elf can’t be nice and be helpful.

No this cretin gets into mischief, destroying things, unrolling the toilet paper, scattering flour all over the kitchen counter, leaving their tiny elf footprints in the mess. And who do you think will be cleaning that mess up? The kids? Right, because at my house with three sons I can’t walk ten feet without finding another abandoned sock randomly laying on the floor. And why don’t I just remind the kids to clean up their socks? You think my wife and I have not tried that? Are you kidding me? And now we are supposed to trash our house to make it look like some evil elf is active in the house at night and then we have to clean it up as well???

This is madness.

And have you seen one of these evil little beasts? To say these elf things are creepy does not do their evil grins justice. As someone who is still wigged out by clowns I can’t imagine waking up in the middle of the night to find the Elf on the Shelf sitting on my night stand staring at me. I would not sleep for the next week. Children probably come screaming into their parents’ rooms in the middle of the night, as if I don’t have enough trouble getting a good night’s sleep as it is.

But it gets worse. So you tell the kids that Santa is real and he has the naughty or nice list.  The beauty of course, is this suggestion provides great leverage for parents trying to keep their kids in check in the mad rush towards Christmas. No need to tell the kids it is an empty threat. I cannot imagine a parent actually returning gifts to the store. But never mind. Back to the elf. Then you raise the stakes and give the kids this real looking thing to see and feel and touch. You trash the house a couple times, move the elf every night and next thing you know the kids, the ones who love you and trust you, are starting to believe this elf is really alive and tracking their every move.

You are better parents than that.

Now let’s talk to the kids about someone else, say Jesus. Can you show them a picture of Jesus? Not really. Can you see him or feel him or touch him like the elf? Nope. I would guess for plenty of kids Jesus is far less real to them than that creepy elf. So what happens when they discover the elf is a fraud, a fake, a phoney?  If they can’t trust you about the elf that seemed so real, how will they trust you about Jesus?

I believe you want to be a better parent than that. I also trust you want your kids to have the gift of a faith that will sustain them when really truly bad things happen in their lives, because you don’t live long in this life without some pain. There must be a better way.

St_-Nicholas

So tell the kids the truth. Santa was inspired by St. Nicholas, a pastor of the early church who gave gifts to children. Sure you can give gifts from Santa, but tell the truth: We are Santa to each other. And remind them of this as well: We give gifts to each other as a way of celebrating the greatest gift of all, the gift of Jesus.

If you bought an elf, don’t return the evil thing. Throw it is the garbage where it belongs. Teach your children about the love of God, not the fear of some crazed evil elf and his coconspirator, Santa Claus.

Paul Walters is the pastor of Lutheran Church of the Master in Troy, Michigan, and Senior Spiritual Editor for Life & Liberty.

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10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Church #0256

Top Ten Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Church!

Pass this on to every church member everywhere.

Today I begin with a modern day parable:

It seems there was a skinny teenaged boy who was self-conscious, like every other teenage boy, and wanted to be part of the group, thought of as cool, respected and the like. Early one summer the story goes, he got his hands on some steroids. (This is the part of the parable where I get in trouble.) He was elated. He did not care about long term health consequences, he saw all the pictures of all the buff and muscle bound guys. He knew the steroids in his hands were the key to it all. He took the steroids that summer.

So what happened? Did he show up at school huge and strong? Did he suddenly make the high school football team? Did all the girls suddenly swoon as he walked by? Nope. None of that happened. That summer he took the steroids, but he forgot to lift, so he just got fat.

This young man and his story is a lesson for everyone who is connected in some way to a church, whether you are a member or the occasional attender. Faith surely comes as a gift, but like that gym membership, if you do not make it a part of your life you can’t really expect anything to change in your life.

So here is the list: Ten ways to get the most out of your church.

1. Show up.

Some things really are that simple. Show up in worship. Be with the gathered people of God Sunday after Sunday. Not when you feel like it. Not on the Sunday morning when you feel like you need to be there. Every Sunday, or Saturday or whenever your church worships. You get the point. Be with the people of God and make it a regular part of your life.

2. Tithe your income.

By tithing I mean give 10% of your income to the church. Sound like a huge commitment? It is. Trust me, I know from experience. If you can’t just go to 10% start smaller, 5% or 6%, but set a percentage and work to increase it over time.

Why? Because giving generously frees you from the hold money can have on your life. Because we care for and support the things we give money to. Because our spending and giving habits reveal priorities.

3. Volunteer, take a class, be part of a group.

Don’t just be generous with your money, be generous with your time as well. Find something in the church that interests you, something that speaks to things you care deeply about. Maybe it is feeding the hungry. Maybe it is learning more about the Scripture. Maybe it is singing in the choir. Whatever it is give your time, be with the people of God and make a difference in the lives of other people.

4. Help lead worship.

Most congregations have lay people (people who are not pastors) help lead worship. Do this. Lead worship. After you lead worship a few times you will forever experience worship differently. You will understand the flow of the worship service. You will pay attention differently. You will be changed.

5. Bring food and eat with people.

Sharing a meal helps connect you with other people. Sharing a meal makes it easier to talk to others. If nothing else you can start with, “How about that Jell-O salad!” And see where the conversation goes from there.

Thom Rainer Church Member

6. Start something new.

Have a passion? Is there something you care about that the resources of your congregation could contribute to? Organize it. Lead it. Plan it. Talk to your pastor and other leaders. Start something new, but be willing to put your efforts into making it happen as well. People with great ideas who are only assigning tasks to other people are rarely appreciated. Take initiative and lead. Find an outlet for the things you care deeply about through your church.

7. Wear a nametag and introduce yourself to people you do not know.

First let me be clear, I realize many people, myself included, are not terribly interested in walking up to people and saying, “Hi, I’m Paul, what’s your name?” But when you show up at church you are surrounded by people who all claim to be your brothers and sisters in Christ. You get together in a group and you pray together. You sing together. The least you could do is risk introductions. At churches with multiple worship services the most common excuse for not talking to strangers is this: I do not want to be embarrassed when I find out they have been members for ten years and usually go to the other service. So own it. Lead with: You have probably gone here forever and just attend the other service, but I do not know you…

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8. Read the Bible.

Start with the gospels. Start anywhere you want, but read scripture. Make that a regular part of your life, day in and day out. Let those holy words become part of your vocabulary. Read the Bible regularly and as you do reflect on your experiences in worship, listen for connections and for those moments when the still small voice of God might be speaking to you.

9. Pray for the people at the church.

Use the church directory. Picture directories are even better. Pray for the people. One by one, day by day. Lift each person up in prayer. Even pray for the people who challenge you, the people you have a hard time being with. Pray for God’s people and discover how you are changed.

10. Take your pastor out to lunch.

Okay, as a pastor maybe this one is a little self-serving, but the idea remains. Spend some time with this person. Share who you are. Share your hopes and dreams. And ask questions. Every wonder why something is in the Bible? Ask. Not quite sure about an illustration in the sermon? Ask. Ask theological questions, that is, questions about how God is alive and active in the world. Just be prepared to share a few of your insights as well.

In other words: if you want to get something out of your church, see it as a gift, but don’t forget to lift.

Finally this: Ten things you can do makes for a nice list, but this is hardly definitive. Why not post a comment after this and add your own ideas. What do you do to get the most out of your church?

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We’ve been asked by many if this can be reprinted for your church newsletter. Yes, indeed, it’s perfect for that and please do so.

We just kindly request that you credit the author and this site:

  • Paul Walters, Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Master, Troy, Michigan
  • ThornHeart.com

Have a better church in six months:

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Sabotaging the Leader? #0235 Life & Liberty

If you are a healthy leader, your very presence will threaten an unhealthy system which you lead.

Unhealthy people will band together to sabotage your work.

But this is just a sign that you are doing the right thing.

Have a look at the delightful video above (refresh if your browser is slow) and you will feel a lot better in about 5 minutes.

Read more in Friedman’s book on the topic:

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A book that may save your leadership.

Stuck in the muck...

Where is God in the Muck? #0140 Life & Liberty

The premiere podcast from Jennifer Clark Tinker.

A touching story of terror and faith.

Small town Texas Christian speaker, writer, and all-around creative type, Jennifer Clark Tinker is a Lutheran Deaconess, mom to a son, wife to a Lutheran pastor and emerging communication talent.

Our “Journalist of the Heart” and Spirituality Editor here at Life & Liberty, Jennifer also has her own blog:

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Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook by clicking on the logos:

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The Lutherans Sterben Aus (Die Out)

This article is not just for Lutherans. It applies to most North American faith families.

The above chart spells unmitigated disaster. And it’s a few years old. It’s gotten much worse since it was first printed.

And better theology is not going to rescue us. We Lutherans have always had the odd idea that if we could “nail” the philosophical content of the Gospel, then everything would line up and we would thrive. Truth is, we have right-leaning Lutherans (LCMS) and left-leaning Lutherans (ELCA) and ALL of us are headed down the same demographic waterslide hand-in-hand.

When eco-feminism is preached from our pulpits, the demographic results shouldn’t surprise us

I’m a theological conservative with no illusions that more conservatism would stem this tide. Our big problems are demographic.

We have HALF the demographic footprint we had in 1960; the year I was born. Then, the ELCA’s predecessor bodies had 5.3 million members. That’s 29.4 for every 1,000 Americans at the time. Our nation has almost doubled in population since then, and the ELCA now has 4 million members. That’s only 14.12 ELCA members for every 1,000 Americans.

Half.

The gay issue in the ELCA churchwide assembly of 2009 will be seen as a blip, historically, compared to the real crises:

1) Lutherans don’t have enough babies. We seem to see them as a liability. Ironic that we did backflips, inducing great trauma to the ELCA, to include the LGBT group (on their terms) which has the lowest fertility rate on earth. It’s like we’re trying to form a no-baby union.

When I was young, it was common to hear church leaders encourage dating, marriage, family formation and getting about the business of having and raising kids. “Be fruitful and multiply” was taken as marching orders. Such encouragement is seen as “gauche” at best and perhaps even taboo today.

Here are confirmation pictures from 1969 and 2004 from the same Lutheran congregation. These trends are the rule, not the exception, for most congregations. Do the math.

2) Lutherans don’t retain enough of the babies they have.

3) Lutherans have no clue how to do evangelism which leads to large-scale adult conversion and baptism. Some even have an “in principle” allergy against doing it; for them, praying with someone to become a Christian is some kind of theological felony. We did 14 adult baptisms at our last church picnic (and we are only a church of 200). Have a look at the video>> LINK We are shooting for 30 this year.

4) Many of our congregations are led by informal juntas of empty nesters and retired people which sabotage every step taken to try to create a young-adult-friendly environment, young adults who tend to have babies, by the way. The trauma many of our missional pastors carry is not unlike that of soldiers returning from Iraq. PTSD is rampant among the younger half of our clergy roster (which is tiny–the average ELCA pastor is 59 and aging). It’s not the pagans who beat on them, it’s their own church members.

5) Lutherans do not do well in urban areas where they have had many churches (big cities like LA, Chicago, St. Louis, etc.) when those zip codes diversify ethnically. In general, we’d literally rather die than reach the new immigrant residents. And we seem to think that urban Latinos and African Americans are looking for high-church worship with a PC message; intelligent Catholicism in black and white without the magic. Small wonder they are staying away in droves

Church Window

6) Our denominational corporate structures are clueless about the “opt in” revolution created by social media. They still think they can control their rosters and not have to attract, cultivate, and maintain “opt inners.” Both the lists of congregations and clergy are brittle and fragmenting. Denominations are like Tower Records trying to discipline iTunes. Good luck.

7) Lutherans are also clueless about the communications revolution. Most of them spend half of their office hours producing bulletins and newsletters which are among the poorest quality print media in America, and no one reads them. Most of our pastors don’t have blogs or a social media presence of any kind, let alone a podcast (click for example) that would hold anyone’s attention. Many Lutheran churches have no website or screens in the church. And the ones that do have websites usually have a big picture of a Jetsons-Gothic postwar church building (see pic below) with other useless information. Generalities abound on such websites (e.g. love the world and love God), and there are no branding distincitives (i.e. what makes us unique) that would attract someone. The mission statements are so vague that Taco Bell could probably use them. And you can never find a picture of the pastor or get a feel for her or his vibe. Anti-branding. Fine, don’t have screens–and while you’re at it, get rid of your parking lot and hope streetcars will come back. If you’re not at least toying with the idea of crafting a smartphone “app” for your church, you may simply never catch up.

8. We have over-merged. Some talk about the “emergent” church. Well, we are the “overmergent” church. A few generations ago, when Lutheranism was thriving, we had a bunch of solid medium-sized Lutheran denominations which were very relational (every pastor could go do every national gathering), and each one had clear branding and vibe. There was loyalty to their one seminary and tiny handful of major global mission fields. Now we have two mega corporations which have no branding and spend all of their time fighting, because we are forcing together constituencies that don’t belong together. Many of our seminaries are going broke. Our leaders can’t name our global mission fields. Former ELC pietists have no business slugging it out for turf within the ELCA with former ULCA East Coast types. No branding, no new customers.

9) Most Lutheran sermons are virtually impossible to understand. I was a Fulbright Scholar and I can’t follow most of them. We tend to preach in the formal register with tertiary reflection; writing a weekly term paper for a professor who isn’t even there. And we are humor-impaired. Our preaching culture is non-existent. We don’t celebrate our (few) preaching stars. Name them. See?

10) We treat our successful churches like pariahs. Reading the Lutheran for years, you’d have no idea which churches they are. The ones that are growing and thriving, reaching lots of new converts, and baptizing them. The ones that are transforming their communities. Heaven forbid we celebrate any success. Synod staffs, churchwide, and struggling congregations tend to be at least passively aggressive towards any success. And if new church plants innovate? Don’t let them on the roster! Unless they impersonate the other dying congregations.

11) I value the opinions of leftists. Some of them I share; some I don’t. Respectful leftists return the favor. Some just scream at you. Bless them :-).

But with a drift toward PC “left-ism,” comes, without question and statistically provable, a less church-going population (see the recent Gallup results–a conservative is twice as likely to be in church as a leftist), and less tendency to have big families (NPR families have way less kids than NASCAR families) that will carry on the important missional work we are doing for generations to come. I think that’s worth questioning, once in a while. Even if I’m wrong, which many of you believe and may indeed be the case, I will plant my flag on the right to ask the question. The survival of our movement is at stake.

12) Along with leftism, follows harder-edged feminism and “green” mentality–taken for granted by most of our clergy. Promotion of these two “isms” leads to less births. Why?

Feminism, in its sturdier forms, can be outright hostile to traditional family formation, shaming “cookie bakers” as somehow embracing stunted femaleness. Women’s desire to get married and have lots of kids (so prominent in movies a generation ago that it’s almost shocking to watch) has to be expressed in hushed tones today in order to avoid a rap on the knuckles from radfem types. Family formation is delayed and less kids are a result.

And greens? I’m pretty green in my thinking. But eco-mentality-ism carries with it the basic assumption that humans are bad for the planet and the less of them the better. Truth is, the population of the world is not a problem at all; in fact the real problem is that most of us will see the global population peak and nosedive within our lifetimes (I know I just messed with your worldview, but it’s true). Economically, this could create huge challenges with an aging group of retirees and less kids to support them.

Truth is, the entire earth population could stand comfortably (all together) with one square meter of space, on South Stradbroke Island off Queensland. Fly across America and get a window seat. Our continent is empty.

So when “eco-feminism light” gets preached or implied/assumed from the pulpit, guess what the demographic results are?

There will always be Lutherans in America.

We are too strong in the Upper Midwest to disappear entirely. But we have squandered our “pole position” which we had after WW2. Instead of contributing to the core of the project that is America, we seem to be choosing to be a quirky footnote to life here.