Thursday, January 28, 2010

Spare a dime?

Many times, clergy approach their congregations as though
the majority are hurting financially. Advertisers don't believe this, since they target people's resources for home video games and entertainment centers, more cars per household, and phones for every member of the family.

Ministers have not made the shift that American culture
has - to realizing while there may be few extraordinarily wealthy members of their congregations, the vast majority of people sitting in their pews are among the most comfortable people on earth.

John and Sylvia Ronsvalle, Beyond the Stained Glass Windows

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Inspiring sermons...

Pastor Ingqvist's sermon last week was a real stink bomb. It was entitled, "God, I'm hungry," and he wrote it in a white heat of inspiration on Saturday morning. When he read it from the pulpit on Sunday, he wanted to weep for how dumb it was, how pretentious, and he left out a lot of it. Afterward, about six people came up and said it was the best sermon they'd ever heard.

Garrison Keillor, Life Among the Lutherans

Monday, January 25, 2010

Give yourself a blessing...

Many conservative churches discourage members from commercial activities on Sunday, like going to the grocery store or the mall, as though "blue laws" were still in effect. Jewish tradition delineates four categories of Sabbath activities: cessation of work, enjoyment, study, and worship.

Some faith traditions encourage gatherings of families and friends that begin and end with religious rituals, helping extend the hours of a day of rest. Many claim that a day set apart is a haven for overworked, over-programmed, world-weary souls, including children.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sell our house?

Atlanta resident Kevin Salwen and his 14-year old daughter Hannah once saw a Mercedes coupe on one corner and a homeless man begging for food on another. She said, "Dad, if that man had a less nice car, the other man could have a meal."

Once home, she pestered her parents about inequity. Her mom said, "What do you want us to do, sell our house?" That's exactly what they did, donating half the proceeds to charity while using the remaining half to purchase a more modest home. Hannah said, "That house was something we could live without. It was too big. Everyone has their own half. They just have to find it."

From the Salwen's new book, The Power of Half. NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff writes that this is a wonderfully dangerous book for impressionable teenagers.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Church's Search for a Reason to Be..

People attend churches today for reasons previously recognized
as neither significant nor valid. Doctrine, denomination, parental loyalty, or childhood rearing are no longer key factors.

Primary factors for church attendance today include geographic proximity, professional advantage, social opportunities, activities for children, and the personal charisma of the pastor - enclosed within a sense of belonging. But so defined, the church competes with a host of other institutions that promise similar opportunities.

W. Paul Jones, from Worlds Within A Congregation

Friday, January 22, 2010

It's not easy, and shouldn't be...

In this life, you MUST choose. You may limit yourself to handling and re-handling observable data. You may dabble in several faith traditions, but your trenches will be shallow. Or you may choose a spiritual path and love God, as you understand her, with your heart, soul, mind, and strength, working your way ever deeper and ever closer to the reality you long for.

Gordon Atkinson, the Real Live Preacher

Thursday, January 21, 2010

An immutable law?

Churches grow when they intentionally reach out to people instead of concentrating on institutional needs. Churches die when they concentrate on their own needs. This is the basic Law of Congregational Life.

William Easum, The Church Growth Handbook

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mac and cheese...

A second-grade class was doing a project in comparative religion. The first child said, "My name is Joshua. I go to Beth Shalom. I am Jewish, and this is the Star of David." The second child said, "My name is Marguerite. I go to St. Mary's. I am Catholic and this is a crucifix."

The third child said, "My name is Fred. I go to Grace Church. I am Protestant, and this is a casserole."

From Whitebread Protestants: Food and Religion in American Culture, by Daniel Sack.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The work of the church...

Spiritual people yearn for work that is hard. It doesn't have to be physical labor.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

It doesn't have to be that complicated...

Many churches are over-programmed and busyness is the norm. Church calendars are cluttered with events that address a multiplicity of topics. But this assortment of programs offers no big picture, no particular direction. There is no clear beginning or end.

In contrast, the simple church shapes its initiatives to produce a life-changing faith that moves congregants toward spiritual maturity. The emphasis is on helping people enhance their own lives, deal with life's difficulties, and improve the lives of others. Using this method, congregants always know what the next step in the journey will be.

From the book, Simple Church, by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger

Monday, January 11, 2010

Many paths...

My grandfather Herman Langton was founder and preacher of The Church of Fire and Brimstone and God's Almighty Baptizing Wind.
I think when he was trying to come up with a name for it, he just couldn't make up his mind, so he put all his ideas together and acted like a prophet and nobody said a thing.

When he was a young man, he used his fists on anybody who crossed him, and as far as I can tell, after he got religion, he did the same thing.

From the novel The Rapture of Canaan, by Sheri Reynolds

Too smart for our own good?

Whenever I hear about why mainline churches are failing, I hear about bad music, inept clergy, mean congregations, and preoccupation with institutional maintenance. I almost never hear about the intellectualization of the faith, which strikes me as a far greater danger than anything else on the list.

In an age of information overload, the last thing any of us
needs is more information about God. We need the practice
of incarnation, by which God saves the lives of those whose intellectual assent has turned as dry as dust, who have run frighteningly low on the bread of life, who are dying to know more about God in their bodies. Not more about God. More God.

Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor

A spirituality of the body...

From Episcopal minister Barbara Brown Taylor's new book, An Altar in the World.

It is important to pray naked in front of a full-length mirror sometimes, especially if you are full of loathing for your body. Maybe you think you are too heavy. Maybe you have never liked the way your hip bones stick out. It is always something.

Maybe you have been sick, or come through some surgery that has changed the way you look. But so far, maintaining your equilibrium has depended on staying covered as much as you can.

This can only go on so long, especially for someone who believes that God loves flesh and blood, no matter what shape it is in. Whether you are sick or well, lovely or irregular, there comes a time when it is vitally important for your spiritual health to drop your clothes, look in the mirror, and say, "Here I am. This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul's address."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Creating anew...

Lyle Schaller, the guru of church authors, claims that churches need to redefine themselves from time to time, otherwise they drift into a passive state. He says that congregations often "recreate yesterday," by living out the same year over and over.

Signs of passivity include church newsletters from today that are similar in content from years gone by. Also prevalent is the attitude that new members will adopt the policies, practices, and methods put in place by their elders, sometimes decades ago.

A significant obstacle to overcoming passivity is that church members are often steeped in their own traditions, and are unfamiliar with new and exiting forms of ministry that are readily available to them.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Making comments...

Readers may find themselves jumping through some hoops in order to post comments. Blog sites are configured to keep spammers at bay, but this means that legitimate contributors need to have one account or another to post comments.

If you're having trouble posting a comment, you can click on my profile, where you'll find my e-mail address. I'll be happy to add your comment to the appropriate entry, as I welcome comments from readers.

Mike Durall

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Must walk on water?

The following are the requirements for becoming a minister in a mainstream American denomination: knowledge of theology; church history; Hebrew and Christian scripture; world religions; social theory and ethics; human development, family life, and ministry with youth; denominational history; the theory, method, and practice of religious education; professional ethics; worship, preaching, and music aesthetics; pastoral counseling; leadership and organization; administration and management; a knowledge of multiculturalism; and finally, sexual health and sexual boundaries.

Noted author Lyle Schaller once commented that if a minister with the above credentials was also young, attractive, had well-behaved children, and a spouse of independent means, that minister would be perfect!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Prayers on the gridiron...

I attended a National Football League game recently, and following the game saw a group of 30-35 players, from both teams, kneeling in a large circle mid-field. I had never seen this before, and a friend said that team prayers in the NFL were quite common.

Generally, I don't consider bulked-up athletes as religious. But maybe I'm wrong on this one.