Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pets R Us...

A group of people in England now offers a special service -- caring for pets whose owners have been taken to heaven in the rapture. For 70 British pounds, the group claims it will provide loving and long term care to pet owners who have been taken up. A franchise opportunity in the US?

What's the point?

We should above all be honest and ask ourselves what we gain from religion. What is the use of all the preaching, baptizing, confirming, bell-ringing, and organ playing, the community houses with or without motion picture equipment, the efforts to enliven church singing, the unspeakably tame monthly church papers, and whatever else may belong to the equipment of modern day ecclesiasticism? Will something different eventuate from all this in relation to the righteousness of God?

Karl Barth, from The Voice of God and the Voice of Man, published in 1928.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Being a professional holy person..

In her stunning book, Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor writes of her dedication to parish ministry. "Sixty-hour work weeks were normal, hovering close to eighty during the holidays. I felt like taking time off was a betrayal of divine trust. The demands of parish ministry cut me off from the resources that enabled me to do parish ministry. At night, I pecked God on the cheek the same way I pecked my husband, drying up inside for want of making love. One of the things that almost killed me was becoming a professional holy person."

No fun...

Sighed the minister, "In our church the ushers may or may not welcome visitors because they (the ushers) are often talking to their friends. Ushers do not help new people find places in the pews. During coffee hour, no one talks to visitors. The visitor's table is in an obscure corner, and rarely staffed. There's nothing of interest there anyway. I beat my head against the wall, but little of this seems to change."

Two lessons come to mind. The first is that many congregations behave this way, especially those with fewer than 150 at worship on Sunday. The second is, "Who's in charge?" Some group is responsible for perpetuating this institutional bad habit, a callous disregard for reaching out to those who are lost and lonely.

Friday, November 20, 2009

More souls in church..

In his book, 44 Ways to Increase Sunday Worship Attendance, Lyle Schaller says the top three ways are to increase the variety of speakers, change the music, and quicken the pace. Episcopal rites are unlikely to speed up, but most faiths are more flexible in liturgy. Professional musicians would be a sure draw. Paul Nixon, author of the book, I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church, wrote that he'd often surprise church attendees on Sunday mornings with changes in worship format.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jonathan Edwards Is My Homeboy...

This phrase may be found on T-Shirts at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Minister Mark Driscoll is a proponent of the New Calvinism. Driscoll's theology goes as follows: "You are not captain of your soul or master of your fate but a depraved worm whose hard work and good deeds will get you nowhere, because God marked you for heaven or condemned you to hell before the beginning of time."

The New Calvinists reject forms of religion that focus on the self, and evidently delight in affirming God's ultimate power in salvation and providential work. From The Christian Century, December 1, 2009.

Focus on what is important...

I'm a fan of a theory called Critical Success Factors. This means that if churches do a few things extremely well, many other things will also be successful. To me, critical success factors are an extremely high quality worship service (especially music), giving away the Sunday offering to local charities that live out your values, and committing 10 percent of the operating budget to mission and outreach. If these efforts are successful, they will unite your congregation in common purpose.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What tomorrow might hold in store...

In his book, Activating the Passive Church, Lyle Schaller writes that all churches need to redefine themselves periodically, otherwise they tend to drift into a passive state. In general, the longer a congregation has been in existence and meeting in the same building, the more difficult this redefinition of role will be. Tradition, tradition...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Who gives?

The Barna Research Group found that certain groups are more likely to tithe than others. Those inclined to give 10 percent of their incomes include Evangelicals (24%), conservatives (12%), regular church attenders (12%), Pentecostal Christians (11%), and Republicans (10%)

Those least likely to tithe are under 25 years of age, atheists, agnostics, never-married adults, and downscale adults. Less than one percent of these groups tithe.


UCC minister Anthony Robinson often says that many churches behave as though nothing important is at stake. In my work as a parish consultant, I often find this to be the case. A companion to this notion is lack of urgency. In my experience, these are a deadly combination. The most difficult churches I've worked with are the most comfortable, the most settled in.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Sundays can be a bitch. I get up before daylight and head for the church. I open up the joint. I putter around and straighten hymnals. I make ready. I preach the sermon three or four times. I throw a nerf ball around the sanctuary while I get my mind straight. I do this many Sundays when I don't believe in God.

Baptist minster Gordon Atkinson, from his book,

Good words to you...

The 24 essays and 10 poems in this collection address the eternal oppositions of good and evil, virtue and vice, creation and destruction, the sorrows and the exaltations of the heart, mind, and soul; and the ceaseless quest for God.

From the preface to the book, The Best American Spiritual Writing of 2004, edited by Philip Zaleski.

A leap of faith..

During budget deliberations, when it appeared the budget would fall $25,000 short, the leadership of a congregation refused to cut back, and added a line item of "additional generosity." The church raised the money later in the year. If it's the right thing to do, the money will follow.

Orange jello

On one page there's a recipe for that molded salad of orange gelatin with stuffed green olives and shredded cabbage that has dogged my ministerial life, and which appears at my house whenever I so much as have a cold. There should be a law to prevent recipes for molded salad from appearing within twenty pages of any article having to do with religion.

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

Evangelism R Us

Let's pretend you are someone who might be willing, in theory, at some point, possibly, to consider doing something that, while not evangelism-type evangelism, still could be in some way construed as a sort of sharing of hope. Kind of.

From A Shy Person's Guide to the Practice of Evangelism, by Steven Bonsey

Monday, November 9, 2009

Consider what you're paying for.

I urge readers not to stay at hotels that support the porno industry by having adult movies on TV. Ask before you make a reservation. Do not be swayed by the argument that "the market demands it." This is complete hogwash.


A recent survey indicated that 17 percent of Americans believe
Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. Think about that one for a moment. Another 12 percent believe that Cain and Abel were friends of Jesus. Where does one start?