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?

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.

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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.

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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.

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