I didn’t originally plan to preach a message on love and caring on the day of our congregation’s annual meeting. And I have no idea whether or not this message influenced people as they prepared their hearts for the meeting that followed worship, but it was possibly the most up-beat, positive, encouraging annual meeting of a congregation in which I have ever participated. It demonstrated that our people care about one another, and love each other. And it demonstrated that they have faith: the congregation approved a budget that involves a 17% increase in giving if it is to be met over the course of 2009. As we grow, we can make this work – I am confident.
I had to stop today at one of our local megamalls to deal with a defective zipper on a winter boot I had bought there almost a month ago. Saturday is a day I tend to avoid malls at the best of times, but usually, “in the bleak mid-winter”, it can be tolerable.
Maybe usually, but not today.
Today, it was like the week before Christmas in that mall. The crowds of people were shoulder-to-shoulder. It left me asking myself, What recession?
When I spoke to the clerk in the shoe store I was dealing with, I mentioned this. She said, “Yeah, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”
“People have the money to buy what they want to buy,” said I. “It’s a matter of priorities.”
I’m no economist, but maybe it will be people’s willingness to spend beyond their means that may help bring the economy out of recession. But in the long term, what good will be done by the amassing of all that debt?
Lots of questions I can’t answer, but when I look at the shopping malls, one thing I can say is that people are still spending.
I received the sad news on Tuesday morning of the sudden passing of a dear friend, aged 54. I have been asked by her husband, a friend and colleague, if I would preach at her funeral. Of course, I agreed.
It’s never easy to prepare for a funeral, but it can be especially difficult to prepare to proclaim God’s Word at a funeral for someone you knew well, and loved. What makes it easy, if such a thing can ever be ‘easy’, is that she loved the Lord Jesus and followed him faithfully. There will be no doubt in anyone’s mind when it is expressed that she has gone to join the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12.1, NIV). We all know that she now lives to praise her Lord and Saviour eternally, where there is “no more death or sorrow or crying or pain” (Revelation 21.4, NLT).
That assurance leaves her loved ones encouraged, despite our loss. And it leaves us wondering how anyone ever handles the death of a loved one without the assurance that comes with faith. Readers from a Dutch Reformed tradition will be very familiar with these affirming words of faith from Question 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism:
What is your only comfort in life and death?
That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.
When followers of Jesus die, they do so with the comfort of belonging to Jesus. As hymnist Norman J. Clayton wrote many years ago:
Jesus my Lord will love me forever, From Him no pow’r of evil can sever,
He gave His life to ransom my soul; Now I belong to Him;
Now I belong to Jesus, Jesus belongs to me,
Not for the years of time alone, But for eternity.
Do you have that comfort, in life and in death? Do you belong to Jesus? If you’re not sure, I want to help. Just email me and we can talk about it.
May the Lord give you his comfort, by faith.
One thing I have in common with every church leader who is keen to see the church blossom and flourish is a desire to reach and retain folks who come to worship as guests. Recently, I found the book Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests Into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Churchand devoured it. It’s not a hard read, not a long read, but is a very practical and useful read. It’s written by Nelson Searcy (with Jennifer Dykes Henson). Searcy is a church planter, and pastor of a congregation in New York City that has several sites for its services. He has come up with an assimilation method that has proven itself to work. Seeing it on paper, I can see how it would work.
Basically, the idea is to communicate with guests – and regulars – and encourage them to take small but important steps toward commitment to Christ and the local church. This happens through the use of cards inserted in every Sunday bulletin, incentives to encourage guests to fill them out (as they watch regular attenders fill them out, likewise), follow-up emails and letters, and simple encouragements to get guests to give serious consideration to making your church family their church family.
Searcy’s method is simple and easy to follow. My one criticism of the book comes from what it assumes is happening: that is, he assumes that people are coming to faith in Christ through the worship gatherings, or through friends, and that they have likely already made a personal decision to follow Jesus by the time they get to a membership class. This is not always the case, of course, and he allows for this with an opportunity to lead people to Christ through the membership class. His theology of church membership is more traditional than biblical, in the sense that church membership as we typically see it is not readily found in Scripture. However, he points out that membership serves as a means of accountability, something that all growing followers of Christ need if they are to keep growing.
One of Searcy’s greatest points is that people who have come for a few weeks in a row need to be offered a serving opportunity of some sort – greeting, ushering, preparing refreshments, playing in the band, etc. – because they will start to take responsibility for the church as ‘their’ church if they have a serving ministry. I hadn’t thought seriously about this before, but he’s absolutely right. As a teen, I was assimilated this way. I’ve seen many people assimilated under my own ministry – no thanks to me – through the initiative of another who thought to offer newcomers a serving role.
I highly recommend this book, and intend to put it to use this week in my own ministry.
Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests Into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church was published by Regal Books in 2007. ISBN-13: 978-0-8307-4531-9; ISBN-10: 0-8307-4531-9. You can check the author out on the web at www.ChurchLeaderInsights.com/Fusion.