Encouragement From The Word

Get growing!

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that the more I know, the more I know I don’t know:  it’s important always to be learning.

Like many of us, when I was younger, I thought I had it all figured out; I knew everything there was to know.  But one applicant at a company had a different slant on it.  When the human resources director asked him what he expected to be paid, she said, “You certainly expect to be compensated well for a beginner.”

The applicant replied, “Well, sure.  Work’s a lot harder when you don’t know what you’re doing.”

It’s true that work is harder when you don’t know what you’re doing.  And one of the challenges of being the church today is that every week, we aim to hit a target, only to find that it has moved.  Culture is changing more rapidly than the world has ever seen.  And if God’s people are going to be effective in reaching others for Jesus, we need to be aware of the culture into which we’re speaking.

The challenge, for some, is that they get so sucked in by the culture that they become indistinguishable from the culture, and lose their voice to speak into it. We can’t give up the truth of the gospel – which is, by nature, counter-cultural – in favour of popularity.

(Besides, churches can’t compete with other organizations in the popularity department. And they usually have better coffee.)

As the people of God, we are charged with the responsibility of steady growth, learning more each day about what it means to follow Jesus in our changing times. The question is, What are you doing to learn and grow?

Sunday morning alone won’t cut it; we need involvement in a small group (what we at St. Paul’s call LifeConnect Groups) and some sort of service outlet, whether it’s helping the youth group or in kids’ ministry or perhaps some community group – these help us grow in Christ.

What are you doing to learn and grow?

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God” (Hebrews 6.1, NLT).

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Encouragement From The Word

Who wants a 50s kitchen?

I’m attending the Canadian Church Leaders Conference in Barrie today (and last night, and tomorrow).  It’s the second year in a row that Connexus Church has offered this conference, aimed at leaders in Canadian congregations (since so many church leader conferences are held in the US and aimed at the American culture, which is different from ours).  Even after hearing just two short talks, I’m encouraged to keep going in the work of change.

Change is a hard word for most people, but perhaps especially for those who have been invested in the life of a local church for a long time.  We all remember what the church used to belike.  Some will remember when there were 500 kids in the Sunday school – a number that seems to go up every time the person recounts the story of what life in the church was like 60 or more years ago.

Trouble is, the world looks a lot different today than it did in the 1950s.  In those days, the post-war baby boom and the optimism that came with a rejuvenated economy meant churches were full most Sundays, without much effort on the part of the leaders.  Today, we have generations of people for whom the church has never been a factor in their lives.

One of the key learnings, so far, has been this: if the church is to be strong, we have to be set free from the idea that we just need to survive, so we can dream again. And that means change.  And while change will be uncomfortable, we need to continue to focus on the people who are not among us yet.

That means ‘doing church’ in such a manner that it attracts those who are not yet part of the church and being more concerned for those who are far from God than those who are unwilling to change.  It’s a tough sacrifice, and it can even seem a bit cold.  But if we focus on who we already have, making sure we keep them happy, we are unlikely to see measurable growth in our churches.

I remember in one church I served, someone got up at a congregational meeting and complained about the changes that were happening.  After the meeting, a dear old soul came up to me and said, “I wonder if his kitchen looks like it did in 1950.”

Of course, few of us have kitchens that look like they did in 1950, even if the house is older than that.  Kitchens are among the first rooms in a house to be renovated, because we want to have the most up-to-date cooking and eating spaces money can buy!  We want granite countertops instead of laminate; we want dishwashers, water-serving and ice-making refrigerators, and efficient ranges – all in stainless steel, bien sûr!

Few kitchens today lack a microwave oven, but in 1950, there was no such appliance.

Yet too often, our churches look not much different than they did in 1950.  In some cases, the order of service might not have changed since then!  But if we’re going to reach a new generation, that change has to be made.

I am fortunate to serve a congregation that has adapted to change very well.  There’s more that needs to be done, for sure, but none of it is simply for the sake of change: we change howwe present the timeless gospel of Jesus, because that’s what’s going to reach a new generation.

Marshall McLuhan famously said that the medium is the message, and he had a point: the way we present truth attracts people, perhaps more than the truth itself. And that’s okay!  While we don’t change the message, we do change the medium, because the method of presenting the timeless truths of Scripture inherently makes the timeless truths of Scripture more appealing, thus increasing the potential audience.

Is that always what we old-timers prefer?  Probably not.  But we already know and love and serve Jesus.  What we want is to engage our neighbours so that they will know and love and serve Jesus.  So we set aside what we prefer in favour of what they prefer.  And the Lord does the rest.

When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some” (1 Corinthians 9.22, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Changing the world

Most of us don’t know who Robert Raikes was, but he changed the world.  He also article-2680751-1F6362C700000578-945_634x653changed the church – through children.

Robert Raikes was the founder of the Sunday School Movement back in the 1700s.

What most people don’t realize is that when Raikes began his effort, he was not exactly aided by the church.  The Englishman, whose efforts sought to rescue children from what was effectively slave labour, teach them to read, and disciple them, caught the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who convened a bishops’ meeting to attempt to stop him.

They believed Raikes’ attempts to disciple children was a violation of the fourth commandment, that it broke the Sabbath.

As time went on, what were called “Sabbath School Societies” were begun across North America, particularly in the United States.  But where was the greatest opposition to these groups?  Clergy.  It was the pastors who were opposing ministry to children because they viewed it as a desecration of the Lord’s Day.  One Connecticut pastor even said of a class held in his church one Sunday, “You imps of Satan, doing the devil’s work.  I’ll have you set in the street!”

Remarkable, isn’t it?  That something we take for granted – ministry to children on Sunday – would have been met with such resistance initially!

So it is with so much change in the church today; it meets with initial resistance, but in the end, if God is in it, it changes the world.

Gamaliel was a learned Pharisee in Israel in the time of the early church.  When people would complain about what the apostles were doing in Jesus’ name, Gamaliel’s advice was sage:  “If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them.  You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” (Acts 5.38b-39, NLT).

When change comes, church leaders with integrity are bringing it in not for its own sake, but because they know that the change can help the church change the world for the glory of God.  And while that may initially be difficult to take, who wouldn’t want to get behind changing the world for the glory of God?

Biblical Messages

From Protest to Provision

This message, based on Numbers 11.1-30, helps us understand how grumbling can be turned on its head to be constructive.

My digital voice recorder gave out before the end; the other steps one could take as a result of this message were:

  • I will focus my concerns and share them appropriately.
    • Refrain from coming to a leader with “People are saying”, or simply talking about a problem without positing a solution. If you’ll act with emotional and spiritual maturity about complaints, then check that off.
  • I will step back and praise God for how blessed I am.
    • If you have 3 meals a day and a roof over your head, you are blessed beyond most of the world. If you have a car to drive, you are blessed beyond most of the world.
    • Realize how NOT hard-done-by you are, and praise God for your blessings.
  • And here’s one more: if you will pray for the leaders of our ch, that we will be able to discern how best God wants us to serve and reach our community, check that off and get on your knees, because a praying ch is a growing ch.  Stay after worship and join those gathering for prayer in the pink room at 11:30.  Intercede before God for those whom he has appointed to lead us as we seek to be the ch in this community that can be most effective at meeting needs AND leading people into a personal relationship with the Lord.

You can listen here, or watch the public Facebook video at the link below.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fjeff.loach%2Fvideos%2F10212531586581820%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Book Reviews

Building the Bridge As You Walk on It: A Guide For Leading Change

This is my summer for finishing books I’ve already started, and I started Building the Bridge an embarrassingly long time ago:  early 2008.  I purchased it as aimages-7 leadership book, but found it useful on more than one level.

I had initially gotten about 100 pages into it, but since it was so long ago that I had started the book, I decided to reread it in its entirety.  This time, I read it as much from the perspective of a spiritual director as a pastor in a leadership role.  It is a secular leadership book, but the author, Robert E. Quinn (also author of Deep Change), may well be a person of faith, based on how he writes this book.

To those who lead in the secular world, the book is an outstanding primer in dealing with personal change; Quinn argues that we lead from and by who we are, rather than from or by what we do.  You’ll find it helpful as you navigate change in business.

To those who lead in the church – ditto.

To those who provide spiritual direction, it is a fascinating exercise to read this book from the eyes of a spiritual director.  You will find it helpful for yourself, and if you give spiritual direction to anyone who leads, it will give you remarkable insight into how to encourage and ask good questions of your directees.

In one sense, I’m glad I didn’t finish the book when I bought it!

Encouragement From The Word

Get out of your rut!

Last week, my wife and I went camping around the west side of Lake Michigan, an area we’d never visited before.   I fear we missed most of Wisconsin due to rain!  It rained very heavily in that area before and during our time there.

We stopped in one campground for the evening, and in my attempts to get the van levelled, managed to get it stuck!  The ground was very soft from all the rain, and we were driving on grass alone.  The more we tried to get out, the deeper our ruts got.  We knew we needed to do something different.

Along came one of the campground’s workers, and she suggested taking my levelling blocks – picture big, square LEGO™ blocks – and lay them flat in the base of the ruts so we would have some traction to back over them, and out of the ruts.

It was a good idea.  It worked.  We got out, stayed the night, and made it home!

This got me thinking, though, about how we get into ruts in our lives.  Whether it’s in the routines of marriage and family life, or the way we ‘do’ church, or even the way we drive to work each day, we tend to create comfortable ruts for ourselves.  Yet someone has defined a rut as a grave that’s open on both ends – not such a good thing!

We do well to be challenged to get out of the ruts we make for ourselves.  God longs to give us new opportunities to serve him, yet we often find it easier to stay in the places where we’ve “always been”.

I knew someone once who lived in a very small community, and only left that very small community to go to a nearby slightly larger community about once a year.  Change, for that person, was not welcome.  Yet there are so many possibilities God can help us explore if we will find some creative way to get us out of our life’s ruts and onto solid ground that will let us travel – emotionally, if not physically – to new places.

Change can be overwhelming for some, so start with baby steps.  Try having something different from “the usual” when you go out for dinner.  Try watching a different newscast on TV.  Try reading a different translation of the Bible.  Try a new brand of coffee.  These are all little things, but they can lead to bigger things that can really make a difference in life.

Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10.10, NIV).  When we came to faith in Jesus, that was a big change – and look at the difference it made in our lives!  Consider how other changes could make a positive difference for you.  Find something to give you traction, and get out of your ruts today!