Yesterday to close my sermon I shared something I have had in my files for years. When I first heard it from a preacher he credited a former preacher named Bob Moorehead. I really do not know the original source, but it is still worth repeating. It is titled “Before you say ‘I quit'”
“I am standing for the healing of my marriage! I won’t give up, give in, give out or give over till that healing takes place. I made a vow; I said the words; I gave the pledge; I gave a ring; I took a ring; I gave myself; I trusted God; and said the words and meant the words…in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in good times and in bad; so I’m standing now, and won’t sit down, let down, slow down, calm down, fall down, look down, or be down till the breakdown is torn down!”
“I refuse to put my eyes on outward circumstances; or listen to Prophets of doom, or buy into what’s trendy, worldly, popular, convenient, easy, quick, thrifty, or advantageous. Nor will I settle for a cheap imitation of God’s real thing. Nor will I seek to lower God’s standard, twist God’s will, rewrite God’s Word, violate God’s covenant, or accept what God hates, namely divorce.”
“In a world of filth, I will stay pure, surrounded by lies, I will speak the truth. Where hopelessness abounds, I will hope in God. Where revenge is easier, I will bless instead of curse, and when the odds are stacked against me, I’ll trust in God’s faithfulness.”
“I’m a stander, and I won’t acquiesce, compromise, quarrel or quit. I have made the choice, set my face, entered the race, believed the Word, and trusted God for all the outcome.”
“I will allow neither the reaction of my spouse, nor the urging of my friends, nor the advice of my loved ones, nor the economic hardship, nor the prompting of the devil to make me let up, slow up, blow up, or give up till my marriage is healed up.”
One of the biggest lessons I have learned in over 20 years of ministry is stated simply: “Every ministry must function in its own setting.” I believe God has your Church (and mine) in a unique city with unique people who are uniquely gifted to reach a unique group of people. The key to great ministry is understanding your own context and community and then unlocking your own potential.
I was reminded of all of this today when I checked the Church answering machine. (Yes, we still have a machine!) The message was from someone who is coming to Alaska for the summer and they were upset that the Church they wanted to attend over the summer does not have any “small groups” meeting over the summer for them to attend. Did we have any programs that would meet their needs?
Well, I had to chuckle because I realized that this person was bring their thinking from the lower 48 into Alaska. In Alaska, for most Churches, Sunday morning attendance swells in the summer. We have “snow birds” who return from the winter. We have guests from all over the world. We have people moving into our community. It is a great time for Sunday morning outreach. We try hard to capitalize on this time of growth and prosperity.
The flip side of that is that all other programs cease in almost every Church. Summer is the time to get out in Alaska. There is May & June bear hunting. There is the red salmon run in July. Hopefully the silver salmon will arrive in August. Businesses are open. Sales are high. The sun shines nearly 20 hours a day. Life in Alaska is busy, busy. Many long time Alaskans depend on this time of year to make all their money and stock their freezer for the long winter ahead. As a result, Churches shut down almost all activities outside of Sunday morning.
When I moved here I did not understand this context. I expected big crowds on Christmas and Easter, but they did not arrive. I saw crowds in the summer and tried to plan activities for them and they failed. It was a completely different world than what I normally experienced. I needed to learn the context of this people in this community in this part of the state.
Now all of that is easy to see in Alaska, but I can guarantee you that it is true in your Church and community too. You are in a unique city with unique needs and you have unique Church filled with uniquely gifted people ready to meet those needs. The question is, “What is our context and how can we use that for the greater glory of God.”
Last week I showed my boys a video clip from a Church in Las Vegas. It was funny, current and somewhat edgy. When the video clip was over my kids asked “Why doesn’t our Church do more stuff like that?” It was a simple question that I have heard not only from my kids but from people in every Church I have worked for. People see another Church doing something fun or cool or productive and they immediately think that our Church should do it.
The problem with this thinking is complex, but the biggest issue is a matter of purpose. The Church that produced the clip is a Church that is trying to reach total non-Christians every Sunday morning. Their gatherings are more of an introduction to Jesus and the Church than a time of reflective worship. My Church, on the other hand, gathers each week to worship, praise, pray and communion together because of our similar faith. We both have the same beliefs and similar goals, but vastly different methods.
This issue gets even bigger when I talk to other Churches about their programming. For example, they have a youth group that is trying to “reach out to lost teens in their community” and they do it with a praise band and sermon. The purpose simply does not match the method. I see this with VBS programs, teen programming and outreach in general. We are trying to use Christian methodology to reach non-Christians and I do not think it works very often.
Lately, one of the biggest questions I am asking of all of our programs is simple, “What are we trying to accomplish?” Is this program for fellowship, discipleship, worship or evangelism? Then I ask, “Is this the best program to accomplish that goal?” As a result, this year we are moving around out normal programming and seeking to add some new events.
I don’t have all the answers to Church growth by any stretch of the imagination, but I am learning to ask the right questions. Most Churches do not need to do more, they need to do smarter.
During the month of March the world focuses its attention on college basketball. Sometimes it is easy to forget about the young men represented on each team and their own personal journey. Here is a story worth watching about a player at Michigan State and his special friend. Enjoy it – it will touch you deeply – but bring a tissue.
I heard a song on the radio that I did not recognize. I was sort of listening to it until the singer hit the chorus. At the chorus he said a line that I made me stop and write it down. After a little searching I found the song on the internet. It is called “Second Chances” by Gregory Alan Isakov. It is a song about a failed relationship – I am not sure it if is the singer’s parents or spouse (or maybe both) – but the final line of the chorus states:
“If it weren’t for second chances, we’d all be alone”
I am a huge advocate of giving people second chances in life. No matter what they have done, I believe everyone deserves another chance. I believe this is true in every area of life. It doesn’t matter if you have failed as a child, as a parent, as a spouse or as a person. I believe you will be given a chance through the grace of God and should be given that chance by the people who claim that grace. We forgive as people who have been forgiven.
The hardest part of being giving second chances is admitting that I failed and need a second chance. I have couples sit in my office and tell me about their marriage and nothing is their fault. I have parents who tell me of their rebellious children and they have done nothing wrong. I have sinners who tell me of their struggles and it is often the result of other people.
Sure there are a few people who hit rock bottom and are willing to admit it. Sure there are a few people who get caught and will gladly accept that they were caught. But most people have huge areas of failure in their lives that they blame on situation, circumstances and other people.
A big step to healthy living is always fighting off disease. The biggest step many of us will ever take toward healthy living is the one that says “I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”
A couple of weeks ago I shared in a sermon a quote that helps guide my life. It is not Biblical (but I think it is a Godly principle). I am completely serious about this, it really does enter into my thoughts daily. I am sure you have heard this quote in a some form or another so it will be nothing new. It is:
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.
The second best time is today”
I know it may seem so simple but the older I get the more I find this to be true. I mean … I should have started working on my marriage 10 years ago but I can start today. I should have started reading my Bible 5 years ago but I can start today. I should have spent more time with my kids the last two years but I can start today. I should have taken up that hobby 20 years ago but I can start today.
Every time I think about a new venture in my life I usually begin wishing I had started a long time ago. My hope is that 5 years from now I will not still be filled with wishes and regrets about all the things I should have done. There are dozens of great things we could have done in the past – the real issue is “What are we going to start today?”