Friday, December 31, 2010

Hope for 2011?

During the past year, I worked with congregations that made me wish I lived closer and could be part of it all. With other congregations, I resisted mightily the temptation to tell them to just close the doors and go home, there was so little of value there.

Theologian Miroslav Volf often writes that churches fail at their central task because they do not define a way of life that is worth living. My less hopeful side suggests that the prevailing consumer culture overpowers the church's message of prayer, forgiveness, and redemption.

During 2011, I'm hoping readers will provide examples of churches that do, indeed, define a way of life that goes beyond acquiring consumer goods; a way of life that transcends our individual interests, whims, and preferences.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The purpose of worship..

A friend of mine is a sixty-something, lapsed Presbyterian who is quite cynical about the church. She attended a service at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a rock and roll church that is one of the fastest-growing in America. I expected her to scoff at the experience.

Instead, she cried. She said, "That service led people to their pain very effectively, and having done so, led them out of that pain and gave them hope for the week ahead."

Episcopal priest Philip Weihe once wrote, "Anyone who has had an experience of the presence of God during a worship event is forever marked by that experience and will try to recreate that moment."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A little holiday fun...

I've had a number of people send me sermon titles over the past few days, so I thought we might start a little collection of the year's greatest hits. Post your own entry, whether profound or less so.

Here are a few starters. I'll note "Aspiration," once again, since that is particularly striking. Another is, "The Overconnected Soul." One of my personal favorites is, "Death: It's Place in Your Life." (I always thought it came near the end.)

In 2003, the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox were in the playoffs. Neither team had won a World Series in almost a century. A sign on a Presbyterian church read, "Cubs vs. Red Sox: There is a God." A friend of mine preached a sermon titled, "Is sex necessary?" from a short story by James Thurber.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Healthy churches..

I'm a fan of John Buchanan, a Presbyterian minister and editor of Christian Century magazine. He recently mentioned reading Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom. He concluded that the characters in the novel don't have enough important things to do.

He writes, "I kept wishing they'd all pack up and go to church some Sunday morning and volunteer in a homeless shelter or sign up for a mission trip."

This reminds me of UCC minister Anthony Robinson often saying that too many churches function as though nothing important is at stake. So, kind readers, beyond Sunday mornings and various church programs, is there truly something important at stake going on in your church?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sermon titles, continued...

Two posts below this one is a comment about the unfortunate practice of publishing sermon titles in newsletters and on websites. Beyond sermon titles themselves, descriptions of sermon topics on various church websites support my point of view.

Sermon topics include: a deepening conversation that is both contextual and relational, an integration of ourselves into our milieu, attuned to the now that is carried out in our bodies, the artistry of shifting paradigms, exploring deeply that senses and feelings are important, allowing more breathing space to learn, and where are those who will say, "yes." Also, let us not overlook the struggle to have fun.

Does anyone out there actually believe this drivel will attract visitors, let alone current members? Of course, if this is what visitors find when they do show up, well, that's an issue for another time.