Two Lessons from My Latest Membership Class

I recently taught the membership class at our Church to over 40 individuals. It is a two-hour class that is designed to teach what our Church believes and how we function. I have taught it at this Church 4 times and each time I handle the class about the same way.

First, I give everyone a book. Then a teach part of what the book says but add lots of needed information to the words on the page. Finally, I have everyone fill out a sheet with information about themselves so that I can have a follow-up visit. This time as I was looking through everyone’s information sheets I noticed something unique.

1. Roughly 90% of the class became Christians before the age of 19.
I am used to seeing a large number of people accept Christ before they turn 19. Nationally I have read the statistic is about 75% of all believers come to faith before they leave high school. Our number for this class was way higher.

The first lesson that immediately comes to mind is about the importance of what we teach our children. What are you teaching your kids about faith? Our words will stick with them for a lifetime.

The second lesson comes from the joy of seeing people stick with their faith their entire lives. Some of the people who took the class are over 65, and they have followed Jesus since the age of 6 or 8 years old. There are still committed individuals in the world.

The third lesson was learning that several of these people had wondered from the faith during their college years or in their twenties and now they had come back to their faith. I found this especially encouraging because of the number of young people I see who make decisions and then leave the Church. It ‘s nice to know that many of them come back.

2. 10% still accept Christ after the age of 18.
While many people find Jesus early, there are still those who accept later. I remember one-time thinking that I would never baptize and adult. It seemed as if the only ones who would respond to my teaching about faith were children. Through the years that has actually flip-flopped for me. I ended up having more people make faith decisions as adults than as children. This group always encourages me. To know that there are adults still willing to change their lives no matter where they have been. While 10% was low for any class I have taught I am still glad the number was not less.

I am sure the decision to become a Christian is harder for an adult than for a child. It makes me glad to know that the gospel is still being accepted by older people across the country.

Rarely do I lie out people’s information and have something like this jump out to me. One look through the pages revealed that God is at work in both young and old. The Church needs to never shy away from people making faith decisions no matter what their age.

Reflections on Father’s Day without my Dad

I spent an entire day trying not to focus on the reality that it was Father’s Day. At Church, I focused on my sermon and the work I needed to do. At home, I took a nap and then went fishing and refused to spend any time alone. Late in the evening I sat up and watched TV and took a little sign of relief as the clock hit midnight as if I had passed some deadline for destruction. The whole time I was trying to ignore the day, there was a voice in the back of my head saying, “You know it’s Father’s Day, right?”

When dad left us six months ago, I knew certain days would be hard to handle. My birthday, his birthday, his anniversary and Christmas would be hard, but I knew Father’s Day would be the worst. Now that the day is over and I have had time to think I share a few simple thoughts of reflection.

1. I openly welcome the pain. I have realized that the reason losing my dad hurt so much was because we had a special relationship. Our close bond made his death that much more painful. Now when I stop to think about him, it hurts me, but I am glad it hurts. I am delighted I have memories of times together. I am happy that I have memories that are buried deep in my soul. Honestly, I would gladly do it all again. I am glad I had the relationship with my father that leaves me hurting and I hope that someday my children will miss me. I would never want to be an afterthought in the mind of the people who surround me. I am thankful for my relationship with my dad.

2. I am part of a whole new group of people. Yesterday I went onto Facebook for about 30 minutes. There I saw post after post of individuals who had lost their father too. They shared the pain they were feeling and the fond memories of their dad. Until this year I never knew what they were talking about when they posted those things. Old age is real, death is inevitable, and I knew the day was coming when dad would be gone. Even though the facts were clear the final departing was painful, and now I understand what other people are going through. The loss of my father has made me far more sympathetic toward others.

3. My relationship with my children has changed. This thought came home almost dramatically for me yesterday. For the last two years of dad’s life, he struggled to shave very well. He tried his best with an electric razor, but he still missed areas. As a result, every time I went home to visit I gave him a good shave. He bought expensive shaving cream and a nice razor so I could do a good job. Then yesterday for Father’s Day my children gave me a gift from the store “The Art of Shaving.” It seemed like a symbolic way of passing the torch. I took care of dad’s beard, and now my children will help me with mine. With the passing of a patriarch comes a new family leader and that leader is me. My life is shifting from parent with kids at home to an empty nest. In four years all four of my children will be out of the house. One question came to mind, “What am I doing now that my future grandchildren will be thankful for?” The baton has passed, and I need to reevaluate the focus of my life.

I am absolutely certain that I am over thinking this day. It is hard not to. It was front and center at every event, store and on social media. Instead of being sad, I tried reflecting on the day. I am thankful for what I had, for what I have and what I hope will one day be.

Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best articles I read this week. Some of them are profoundly Christian and others are just good thoughts. I hope you enjoy them all.

A Letter Of Apology To My Last Born – I found this funny and fairly true. Good for parents of 4 or more kids.

Pastors are People

What You Don’t Know About Rural America: 3 Common Misconceptions

Confessions Of A Social Media Lurker: 3 Guidelines For Commenting Constructively Online

Twenty Relics of Church Past

Bonus – I also enjoyed this TED talk – 12 truths I learned from life and writing – from writer Anne Lamott.

True Confessions about the Church

I recently finished a series of sermons on Sunday morning called “True Confessions.” Each one was created from a single thought; there are some things we all feel, but none of us say in public. I took the series as an opportunity to not only say the words out loud but also as a chance to process those thoughts from a Christian perspective.

Today I want to give you some random yet true thoughts about the Church as I have experienced it. Here is what I know –

-The Church is not a building, but we own one. It helps, and it hurts us equally.
-The Church is full of people who are flawed and imperfect.
-This is where grace should abound but frequently does not.
-Some people only attend worship for the social aspect.
-Yes, the Church has hypocrites who are only pretending to follow God for some reason.
-Most of the people I know in the Church are genuinely concerned about other people.
-Church people are some of the most hard-headed people I know in both good and bad ways.
-Quite often the Church is the first and last at showing love in times of need.
-People learn what it means to serve selflessly at Church worship programs.
-Some weeks the sermon or lesson bombs.
-There is something good to hang onto every week, find it.
-It is a terrible idea to attend a Church just because of the preacher. He will let you down.
-No one is completely sure where Jesus is leading us.
-We don’t hate the other Churches in town, but we don’t understand them.
-There are unique people everywhere, even in the Church, especially in the Church.
-Some Sundays people are just tired (even the Pastor).
-There are some awful worship songs both old and new.
-A fellowship time where people shake hands is forced, we know.
-People who attend on Christmas and Easter only miss a lot of good stuff.
-Communion will keep you grounded in Jesus
-Sick people prey on the Church because they think we are stupid.
-Many of our parents went to Church, and honestly, all of us long for those simpler times.
-The Church is like a family, you only truly understand it from the inside.
-Many of the pastors I spend time with are the smartest most widely read people I know; some are neither of those two things.
-There are days when even the preacher is disappointed in people.
-There are days when even the preacher is amazed at people.
-The longer I am part of a Church the less I think I understand it, but I know it is mostly good.

The Church is this wonderful and unique place. Almost anything you say about it can be true at one time and place or another. It is full of godly people along with some not-so-godly people. Despite its flaws, the Church has existed for almost 2,000 years. I feel confident in saying it will exist another 2,000 years if Jesus waits that long to return. No one asked for the Church. It is God’s gift to us. Get connected, and you will see all the bad, you will also be blessed beyond measure. I can’t quite explain it; you just have to try it for yourself.

Evangelistic Fishing Lessons

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 (NIV)

Jesus statement reflects one analogy of sharing our faith. We can view the work of spreading the gospel like a fisherman catching fish.

Obviously, the analogy is not perfect, and we can push the meaning too far. This does not mean we are going to fillet people and have them for a Sunday lunch. The emphasis is not on the fate of the fish as it is the work of the fisherman. Trying to lead someone to Jesus is much like trying to catch a fish. For anyone who has ever tried to be evangelistic in their life, the analogy makes sense. I found this especially true a couple of weeks ago while I was on vacation. I spent almost five full days fishing at a nearby lake on a public fishing dock.

During the days I spent fishing I was able to catch my limit almost every day. This enabled me to have three family fish dinners, plus give my mom and my sister some fish for the freezer. It also gave me a chance to observe people and their methods of fishing.

1. Know the Basics. I was amazed at the number of individuals who came to the docks with big lures or big round red and white bobbers. If you are a fisherman, you know exactly the type of people of which I speak. Some people have little knowledge and have never taken the time to learn. The result is that they cast and wait for an hour with little success. They frequently blame the fish that day and go home empty-handed. The hard truth was they did not know enough to be successful.

Honestly, you do not have to know a lot of profound truth to share your faith. You do need to know the basics. Who was Jesus? What did he do for you? How has it changed your life? Sharing Jesus requires a basic knowledge of the Bible and its meaning.

2. Pay attention to details. Once you know the basic, you need to be willing to step up your game. One day I was fishing and catching two or three times as many fish as everyone else on the dock. Everyone claimed I was in the “lucky spot.” The truth was that I was fishing at a very precise depth with only very lively minnows hooked near the tail for more wiggle. They were using big minnows near the bottom hooked in the head. Doesn’t sound like much of a difference but it affected the results in a big way.

This truth also applies to being evangelistic. The difference between having a positive experience and a negative one can be very subtle. Your basic approach to the situation, your attitude toward the people, the questions you ask and the way you listen can determine your success as much as what you say. Pay attention to details.

3. Persistence Pays Off. One day my mom, my son and I stayed on the dock fishing longer than most people. Everyone started leaving around noon and heading home. We only had seven fish but decided to stay. Then it came alive, and we ended up catching our limit of 45 in the next couple hours. Fishing is unpredictable, but patience is required.

I have spent years sharing my faith with not one single result. Then one day it happens. Someone trusts Jesus. Then another. No one may respond to my words today, but that does not mean no one will respond.

I enjoy fishing, and I enjoy sharing what I believe. I hope you at least are trying to do the latter of those two. I know there are lots of comparisons I see between the two practices and I hope maybe these three observations will help you.

I want to see those I know and care about respond to Jesus and his invitation, but frequently it takes the work of a skilled gospel fisherman to bring it to completion.

Preparing for the Future

I hear preachers complain about it all the time, and I admit I have done it too. They complain during the Christmas season or during the Easter season about how busy they are at the time. Honestly, the minister who usually feels the burden of the winter and spring are the ones who enjoy summer too much. For some of us who lead Churches, summer is a down time, and we travel to conferences, take vacations and generally slack off.

Several years ago, I made a grand discovery that if I work hard in the summer, I will be far better prepared for the future. I can put plans and ideas together now for the work I will be doing several months out. So here are some of the projects I am working on this summer.

1. Membership. A little over a month ago I taught our membership class again. Now I am doing the follow-up with everyone. There are several reasons this is important. First is because our membership books are a mess. Through the years numerous people have been added with very few removed. We also had a Church split in our history and then a Church reunification that made a mess of our records. I am building a new list of members who are actively part of the Church. This list is then going to be divided up to help with the care ministry of the Church. We are forming what was once known as shepherding groups with the people who have taken the class. Finally, we are enlisting and directing new people where they can serve the Lord at our Church. We want to see everyone who calls this Church home serving in some capacity. The care of our members and volunteers we need are being secured now for the future.

2. Ministry Systems. Just like the human body is made up of different systems (think cardiovascular and muscular for example), so the Church is made up of different systems. There is a worship system, guest follow-up, ministry, leadership and so on. I am trying to organize these for the best possible outcome. I just bought a book that will help me work through this for our Church.

3. Sermon Planning. Every summer I try to plan for the next 12-14 months. I try to think through big days like Christmas and Easter. I like to come up with sermon series with titles for each sermon and hopefully a topic and text. I never want to be a slave to the immediate by waiting to put my sermons together. This keeps me preaching a variety of topics and using the whole Bible each year.

4. Complete Calendar. As the sermons are being put together I need to think through every aspect of every month. That might include a Sunday for the children’s Christmas program along with small groups and other activities. I try to think through the annual calendar while looking at the school schedule. Right now, this discussion involves the moving to two worship programs by this fall. We were running over 80% full in our auditorium this spring and now we need a plan for more seats in the fall. This takes a lot of thought, discussion and prayer.

These are some of the big things I am working on right now. I have several other small projects ranging from books I want to read to my Easter sermon for next year. Each of these jobs will help to make the Church better in the future and relieve me of stress in the future. Please say a prayer for our Church and its future plans and may God be glorified by everything we do.