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Arquivo da tag: desafios pastorais

Broken Homes in the Bible

Unless you live in complete isolation, you have seen a broken home. Maybe it’s the family of a friend or a relative; maybe it’s your own home. Families fall apart in ways that are short-lived and lifelong, hidden from view and out there for everyone to see. Whatever the case, hardly anything perplexes and discourages us more than broken homes.

Why Are So Many Homes Broken?

The Scriptures teach us that the pandemic of damaged families we see today is nothing new. Many of us attribute the problem to recent cultural shifts — the decline of religion and morality — but the Scriptures point in a different direction. Broken homes actually appear very early in the Bible. They come into view when God pronounced judgment against our first parents, Adam and Eve.

When God made humanity, He blessed us with the privilege of being His royal and priestly images. God first ordained that we should “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” to prepare the earth for the fullness of His glory and eternal praise. God also established the family as the main social unit by which this multi-generational mission would be fulfilled (2:19–24). This is why, in most circumstances when family works well, we move forward in the purposes for which God created us. When it does not, we are severely hindered in our service to Him.

Of course, it was not long before Adam and Eve sinned and fell under the judgment of God. When most of us think about the consequences of humanity’s fall into sin, our minds turn toward the physical and spiritual death that came to our first parents and to all of their descendants (Rom. 5:12). We also recall God’s curse on nature and how it makes human life difficult until Christ returns in glory (8:18–25). As important as these features of our fallen condition may be, the opening chapters of Genesis emphasize something else. The Scriptures stress how God’s judgment against our first parents was directed toward the family. God indicated as much when He said to Eve: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing” (Gen. 3:16). Eve’s reaction to Abel’s death indicated that her maternal pain not only included physical childbirth but also the emotional grief caused by the waywardness of her children (4:25). The familial focus of God’s judgment also becomes evident in the disharmony that grew between Adam and Eve: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (3:16). Moreover, God warned Adam “in pain you shall eat” (v. 17), indicating that providing for the physical needs of his family would be riddled with hardship. The early chapters of Genesis explain that the brokenness of nearly every facet of family life stems from God’s judgment against our first parents.

Unfortunately, very few people acknowledge how long and how deeply the human family has been broken. When troubles come to our homes, we almost always pin the blame on someone’s personal failures. “My family was fine,” one mother told me, “until my son became a teenager.” “We were without problems,” a husband once commented, “and suddenly my wife was unfaithful to me.” “We were a great family,” a child confided in me, “but then Dad just got up and left.” Of course, we all have personal failures, and there is plenty of blame to go around for the problems our families suffer. But statements like these reveal how much we need to look more carefully at the root of our problems. No family is “fine,” “without problems,” or “great” until someone destroys it. Every home is broken from the day it begins.

If you and I were to believe what the Bible says about the origins of our family problems, our attitudes and actions would be very different. We would be more sympathetic with others going through hard times, more vigilant about keeping our own families on track, and more devoted to pursuing help from God rather than simply assigning blame. Wouldn’t that be a welcome change?

But Hasn’t God Promised?

But hasn’t God promised that Christian families can overcome their brokenness? It is true that followers of Christ will receive full relief in the future. The New Testament teaches that at Christ’s return, “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:20–21). Although “in the resurrection [we] neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matt. 22:30), when Christ appears He will reverse every harm sin has caused, including the breakdown of our families. But what about now? Can we overcome the brokenness of our homes in the present age?

In recent decades, Christian television has spread what many call the “prosperity gospel” — the misguided belief that if we have enough faith, God will heal our diseases and provide us with great financial blessings. Of course, most people reading this article scoff at the thought that faith can yield such benefits. But don’t laugh too hard. We have our own prosperity gospel for our families. We simply replace having enough faith with having enough obedience. We believe that we can lift our families out of their brokenness if we conform to God’s commands.

You’ve probably encountered this outlook at one time or another. Teachers and pastors tell wives that they will enjoy wonderful relationships with their husbands and children if they will become “an excellent wife” (Prov. 31:10). After all, Proverbs 31:28 says: “Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her.” At men’s conferences, fathers recommit themselves for the sake of their children because “the righteous who walks in his integrity — blessed are his children after him!” (Prov. 20:7). In much the same way, young parents are led to believe that the eternal destinies of their children depend on strict and consistent training. You know the verse: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Passages like these have been taken as indicating that Christian families experience blessings and loss from God, quid pro quo. We believe that God promises a wonderful family life to those who obey His commands.

Now, we need to be clear here. The proverbs commend certain paths to family members because they reflect the ways God ordinarily distributes His blessings. But ordinarily does not mean necessarily. Excellent wives have good reason to expect honor from their husbands and children. Fathers with integrity often enjoy seeing God’s blessings on their children. Parents who train their children in the fear of the Lord follow the path that frequently brings children to saving faith. But excellent wives, faithful husbands, and conscientious parents often endure terrible hardship in their homes because proverbs are not promises. They are adages that direct us toward general principles that must be applied carefully in a fallen world where life is always somewhat out of kilter. As the books of Job and Ecclesiastes illustrate so vividly, we misconstrue the Word of God when we treat proverbs as if they were divine promises.

Quite often, there are correlations between obedience and blessings, as well as between disobedience and loss. But never be fooled into thinking you are able to figure out what God will do next in someone’s family. The Scriptures acknowledge a great deal of mystery in the ways God deals with us. Throughout the Bible, God withholds and pours out both temporal and eternal blessings and losses on families in inscrutable ways. Who would have expected God to protect Cain and bless his family with sophisticated cultural development (Gen. 4:17)? Why did God reject Saul’s family from kingship because of Saul’s sin but maintain David’s family on Israel’s throne despite David’s sin (2 Sam. 19:11–43)? The same kinds of things happen in the modern world. Why does one family lose a child and another doesn’t? Why does one unfaithful spouse repent and seek restoration and another unfaithful spouse disappears? To tell the truth, we often simply do not know. God’s ways are not arbitrary or capricious; we trust that all He does is wise and good. Yet, His ways are often unfathomable.

What Hope Is There?

If all of this is true, what hope is there? To understand the hope that the Scriptures offer us, we have to come to grips with some good news and bad news. The good news is that you cannot be bad enough to ensure God’s condemnation of your family. You might have been the most unfaithful spouse and the worst parent in human history, but you cannot be wicked enough to put your family beyond the possibility of redemption. The bad news, however, is that you cannot be good enough to ensure God’s blessings on your family. You might be the best spouse and parent that has ever walked on the planet, but you cannot be righteous enough to protect your family from terrible trials and suffering. The future of your family, for good or ill, is in the hands of God.

Without a doubt, we should look to Scripture for guidance in our homes. It addresses the familial responsibilities of men (Eph. 5:25–336:4Col. 3:19211 Peter 3:1–6), women (Eph. 5:22–24Col. 3:181 Peter 3:7), and children (Eph. 6:1–3Col. 3:20). It also offers family stories that provide rather obvious guidance. For instance, the relationship of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 2–4) is as positive an example as David’s adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11) is negative. We should do our very best to follow all the teachings of Scripture. But we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that the future depends on us.

I recently heard a pastor preach on Christian fatherhood in this way. He noted how both of the brothers Jacob and Esau lacked integrity (Gen. 25–36). With strained biblical evidence, he then explained how their lack of integrity resulted from the ways their parents split their love between the two brothers. Next, he blamed the waywardness of Joseph and his brothers on Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph (Gen. 37). Abimelech rebelled against God because Gideon spent too much time in public service and neglected his son (Judg. 8:33–9:57). Rehoboam’s brash behavior (1 Kings 12) was caused by Solomon’s failure to spend enough time with him. Then the pastor concluded, “If we follow these bad examples, we are condemning our homes to destruction. But if we reject these examples, we will ensure God’s blessings for our homes.”

But the Scriptures make it clear that it just doesn’t work that way. Jacob and Esau were scoundrels, but God displayed His glory by transforming Jacob into the patriarch after whom the nation of Israel was named (Gen. 32). Jacob gave his sons opportunity for jealousy by favoring Joseph, but God also favored Joseph and used these family dynamics to establish order among the tribes of Israel in later generations (Gen. 49). The generation of the Exodus from Egypt failed miserably, but God mercifully enabled the second generation to overcome their parents’ infidelity (Josh. 1). David fell into serious sin with Bathsheba, but in God’s kindness Bathsheba gave birth to Solomon (2 Sam. 12:24–25).

The same is true in modern life. We all know parents who raise their children to be followers of Christ, but their children reject the Christian faith. At the same time, many of us know parents who came to faith late in life. Despite the fact that they had trained their children to mock everything holy, their adult children soon trusted Christ as well. We all know innocent victims of divorce who suffer their entire lives with the pain of loneliness and guilty parties who repent and find peace with God and happiness in another marriage. These scenarios may not make much sense to us, but they demonstrate one thing very clearly: the future of our families depends on God, not on you and me.

What’s the bottom line? Do your best to be the kind of spouse, parent, or child God wants you to be, but never take your eyes off of the One who actually holds your family’s future. If things are going well in your home right now, don’t be fooled into thinking that somehow you have made it that way. Look again; your home is broken beneath the surface and able to disintegrate in a moment. So, give God the thanks He deserves and earnestly pray for His continuing mercy in the future. But if things are not going well in your home, don’t give up on the hope of redemption. God delights in showing His amazing saving power through people who have nothing left. Whatever the condition of your family may be, turn to the One who holds the future in His hands and ask Him to honor Himself through your broken home.

The Bible talks a lot about broken homes and we should, too. Rejoice when your family enjoys God’s blessing. Be sympathetic when you become aware of brokenness in other families. There will be times when you will face brokenness in your own family. But you have a God who is also your heavenly Father, and He loves you as a member of His family. God promises no easy fixes or simple solutions. There are no steps to follow that will guarantee healing and restoration. But your heavenly Father can and does heal families. He can turn mourning into dancing; He can create praise out of despair. He can bind the wounds of the brokenhearted and set free those imprisoned in darkness. God can restore families and use the tragedies that so deeply hurt us now to move us forward in the purposes for which He created us. So call out to Him as your Father, and pray for His mercy on you and your home. Trust in His love for you and never give up. Our Father sent His only Son to die and rise again to forgive our sins and heal our shame. He is our hope in all the brokenness we face in our lives.

Source: LIGONIER MINISTRIES

 
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Publicado por em 13/03/2012 em POIMENIA

 

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The Pastorate: No Place for Crybabies

It comes as a surprise only to a very few that pastoring a church can be extremely hard work. Rewarding, yes. Fulfilling, challenging, and blessed. But there are times when it taxes the child of God to the core of his being, when it tests his sanity, and drives him to question everything he ever believed about the faith he is proclaiming and the people he is serving.

Only the strong need apply.

They used to say that only the hardiest of stock settled the early American west. “The cowards never started and the weak died along the way.”

There’s something about that which fits the ministry.

What triggered all this for me was the sports guys on ESPN the other day talking about Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback. He’s had an ankle injury this year, and has been making every effort to play on in spite of it. Whether this is smart or foolhardy, we’ll leave to other people. The commentators were of one mind on it, however: Isn’t Big Ben great! He doesn’t give in to a little injury. He knows how to play hurt!

Playing hurt.

I’ve played hurt. You too, pastor? I will go so far as to say that every pastor who stays in the Lord’s work for any period of time will sooner or later “play hurt.” He will have a serious burden or strong opposition or major trial or some kind of massive handicap which would destroy a lesser individual (“a career-ending injury” it’s called in sports), but he still stands in the pulpit preaching, still goes to the office, still leads his church.

Every week I hear from pastors and/or their wives with similar stories of great upheavals in their ministries. The one this week said, “I perceive that you too have had troubles and trials in your life. That’s why I decided to write you.”

She said what the others have say: “Please do not use any details from my story. I wouldn’t want this to get out to certain people.”

If they only knew. Each story is so similar to all the others, one would think it was the same thing happening repeatedly.

Take the letter this week.

Just a few years ago, the preacher-husband and his wife started a church and saw it prosper. Then, a denomination approached asking if they would merge with one of their struggling congregations. Both groups followed all the proper steps, then merged.

In so doing, however, they inherited from the old church an assistant pastor who was trouble from the first. When they presented evidence of his wrongdoing to the denomination, the executives did nothing.

When the pastor developed health problems, the troublesome staff member led a movement to oust him. Suddenly, the faithful preacher found himself jobless, critically ill, and in financial need.

These days, that unemployed pastor is recovering from his illness but the wound to his soul seems incurable. After all, where was God in all this? Why did the Lord allow these mean-spirited people who call themselves Christians to behave this way? Why wasn’t God faithful to His servants who had labored long and hard for Him?

The pastor is not sure he believes in God any more.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have an epidemic in our land of internal church problems.

Your church is not the exception, my friend. It is far more typical than you would think.

In the past few days, church leaders have told me of…

…a volunteer who asked for a key to the church so she can minister. When refused, she became demanding, and is now creating a ruckus within the congregation. The pastor found that she tried the same ploy in previous churches, and is now trying to decide what to do.

…a small church where a lady who sings in the small worship ensemble has a terrible voice but huge ego (bad combination!). The preacher’s problem is how to get her off the platform but still keep her and her family as church members

…senior church members feeling abandoned in a congregation that is finally managing to reach young families. The rift is small presently, but threatens to undo all the blessings God is sending.

People Problems.

An uncle of mine used to take me shopping when I would visit his family as a child. More than once, he said, “Joe, don’t worry about expenses. We’ve got plenty of them.”

If your church has a lot of people, you will have plenty of people problems.

The preacher often becomes the target whether he deserves it or not.

After all, he’s the point man. Exposed out in front as the leader, disaffected members aim their fiery darts in his direction.

I smile sometimes on recalling how a church I was pastoring decided to spend nearly $1 million to renovate its ancient buildings. The building committee, made up of godly and mature leaders, did a lengthy study before recommending the project to the church, which adopted it almost unanimously. However, for reasons unknown then or now, a few unhappy campers spread the word that I was pushing it through as an ego trip.

The simple fact is when you are the head coach, a team’s victories and failures both fall on your shoulders. If the quarterback throws a hail mary and connects for a touchdown, the coach is a genius. If the ball is dropped or intercepted, he is to blame.

A church up the road from here has just survived an attempt by a few lay leaders to oust the pastor, a ploy they have pulled off successfully several times the last two decades. This time however, they had themselves a pastor with grit. He resisted, they did their worst and fell short. Now, the disgruntled are leaving and the remaining members are pulling together.

Two other churches I know well have seen their pastors resign under fire recently. In both cases, the pastors just grew tired of fighting a few lay leaders with their own agenda who were determined not to follow them.

The most surprising thing for many pastors is learning their greatest opposition, their biggest problems, their major obstacles to doing the work the Lord sent them to accomplish is coming from within the membership.

Pastors must learn to expect problems and to “play through” them.

Play through the pain. Go on doing the work the Lord called you to do even though some in the congregation hate your guts and resent your presence.

I did not say all these who oppose you are sweet godly saints who mean well. Some are.

Some are tyrants out of hell intent on wreaking havoc in the congregation.

And–don’t miss this–some are a mixture of the two.

For reasons that baffle me, even the smallest of congregations will frequently have a few people with a thirst for power. They want to control decisions. Why in the world anyone would want to be a big frog in a small pond escapes me. But they do.

As I write, last Monday night, our New Orleans Saints hosted their arch-rivals in the NFC South division, the Atlanta Falcons, in our Superdome. It wasn’t much of a game as these things go, and ended with the Saints on top 45-16. But what caused all the talk this week was the Saints’ last drive of the game.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees was attempting to amass 305 yards through the air, which would eclipse the NFL record set in 1984. Even though the Saints had “won” the game and needed no more points, the final pass–the one which put Brees over the top–scored another touchdown.

We hear that the Falcons resented it. We hear that they considered this piling on, running up the score.

No amount of explaining from the Saints seems to have stopped the bellyaching.

Finally, the response to the Falcons’ criticisms from far and wide all said the same: “Had the Falcons wanted to stop the Saints, all they had to do was do it. That they couldn’t stop them says it all. They’re a bunch of crybabies.” (To be fair, it was not all the Falcons nor all their fans. In fact, the complainers seem to have remained anonymous.)

Crybabies.

It brings to mind an old song about a fellow named Charlie Brown, who kept asking, “Why is everybody always picking on me?”

Pastors can be crybabies and wimps. “Oh no. My congregation is having problems. Where is God when it hurts?”

To the pastor who is experiencing problems within the congregation and becoming the focus of opposition, we have this counsel:

1) Grow up. Expect trouble. Read Acts 20:29-30 again and again until you get the point that “it is through many tribulations that we enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

If anyone could pastor a church, God would not have to draft us.

2) Be strong. This is no work for wimps or weaklings. God told Jeremiah, “You will go to all to whom I send you; you shall say whatever I command you. And you must not be afraid of them” (Jer. 1:7-8).

3) Show courage. Be willing to face your giants, to stand before your Goliaths and not show fear. No knees knocking, no teeth chattering, no lump in your throat, but full confidence in the Lord who called you and accompanies you. Again and again, Joshua was told by Moses, by the Lord, and by the congregation, “Be strong and of good courage.” (Deuteronomy 31:6-7,23 and Joshua 1:6,9,18)

Pastor, please note that not only did Moses and the Almighty God want Joshua to show courage, but the people did also. No congregation wants their pastor to wimp out.

4) Expect trouble. See above.

5) Don’t quit. Hang in there. Twice in II Corinthians 4, at the start and at the end, Paul counsels God’s people not to lose heart and quit. In verse 1, they are to stay faithful because they have received mercy and been called to ministry. In verse 16, they are to persevere because God has great things in store for them.

“In due season we shall reap….if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9) Various translators say “if we do not lose heart and quit,” “if we do not give up,” and “if we do not grow discouraged and stop.”

6) Expect to get back up again after you are knocked down. Repeat as often as necessary.

Every pastor will want to memorize Paul’s words–learned in the school of really hard knocks–from II Corinthians 4:8-10. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed–always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

Football is a game for men, they say. Play through your pain. And when your opponent scores big on you, remember: there’s no place for crybabies on this team.

I can hear someone say, “You don’t know how bad I had it. You have no idea what I’ve been through or how badly this hurt.”

Answer: Of course I don’t. I’ve had my share of opposition and trials, but not like yours. There is, however, Someone who knows. And He is not asleep at the switch, my friend.

So, trust Him. He knows what He is about.

A phrase the old-timers used to hear preached was “Quit you like men.” It’s found in the Old Testament in places such as I Samuel 4 and in the New Testament in I Corinthians 16:13. That little phrase, oddly worded, seemed to strike a nerve with preachers and laymen a couple of generations back. Many a preacher stood in the pulpit and preached to his people that they should “quit you like men.”

Far as I can tell, it simply means to be courageous, brave, and strong. The old Williams Translation says, “Keep on acting like men.” I cannot improve on that, and won’t try.

Grown-ups only in the pulpit, my friends. No crybabies or wimps need apply.

Source: Joe McKeever

 
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Publicado por em 12/03/2012 em POIMENIA

 

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Let Us Stand for the Benediction – Reclaiming the lost art of blessing.

Lee Eclov

I like to ask people new to our congregation about their first impressions of Village Church. Mary’s answer surprised me. “I’ve been part of a church family for as long as I can remember,” she said, “but this is the only church where the pastor blessed his people at the end of the service.” She always thought the benediction was the last hymn the congregation sang before returning to the world; she didn’t know it was God’s blessing on his people.

“When you stretched out your arms and sang a song of blessing over us,” she said, “I was moved to tears. You weren’t just sending us out to face the world on our own; you were pouring out God’s blessing and Spirit on us so that we would be better prepared to face the world.”

Benedictions have become one of my favorite pastoral privileges. I can’t imagine ending a worship service with, “See you next week,” or “You’re dismissed,” when I can offer a congregation God’s blessing instead.

“This is how you are to bless …”

There are many kinds of benedictions. Some pastors write a unique blessing for each Sunday, drawing from the texts of the morning. Scripture itself provides the church with many blessings, including Paul’s familiar, “Grace and peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ.” But one blessing is the source and summary of all others.

In Numbers 6:23–26, God instructed Moses that Aaron and his sons were to bless the Israelites in this way: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

This blessing was Israel’s national treasure, their holy heirloom. This national blessing began with God’s promises to the patriarchs, unique promises of success, safety, and significance. In these three lines, God summarizes what he would always bring to those who trust him.

This blessing has come to be called a benediction—from the Latin for “to speak well of.” The benediction is a good word. The best of words, actually. Unfortunately, it comes off sometimes as a kind of churchy, Hallmark sentiment, as if it were in swirly printed script over a picture of a country church. It has been the thoughtless repetition of benedictions which has done them in, I imagine.

When a pastor raises his hands and says these words as an emissary of the Lord himself, then God’s people really are blessed.

Through the mutual carelessness of pastors and their people, the words can cease being sacred gifts and become clergy code for the service’s end, a congregational heads-up to collect your stuff.

Listen to what we’re saying.

But, in fact, it is so much more. This blessing is a unique kind of statement, its own genre. It isn’t a wish. We really shouldn’t say, “May the Lord bless you,” the way people say, “May all your dreams come true.” The benediction is a declaration: “The Lord blesses you—he really does!” It doesn’t tell us what God will do for us, but what God is doing ever and always for his people. It is sort of an uber-promise. I wonder if the best analogy would be that it is God’s wedding vow spoken to his people. It’s his way of saying, “I take you for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and death will never part us.” The benediction is like God renewing his vows to us. Let’s take a closer look at what these vows include.

“The Lord bless you.” Yahweh personally endows us with his richest benefits. He assures us that his love envelopes all our comings and goings and that his favor infuses all our days. It is God’s own hand upon our waiting heads, his own table spread before us in the presence of our enemies.

“And keep you.” God promises our safe passage through wilderness wanderings and enemy ambushes. It is God before us and God behind us. It is the Lord completing what he started in us through Christ and the assurance that will guard our souls till we hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

“The Lord make his face shine upon you.” Jacob, to whom we bear such a striking resemblance, wrestled with the angel of the Lord all night, until God finally blessed him. (Did the angel use these words, I wonder?) The writer describes the morning after this way: “The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel [Face of God], and he was limping because of his hip.” We all know that there are plenty of dark nights of God-wrestling, but the Lord promises those who will settle for nothing less than his blessing that we will bask in the sunlight of his face in the morning.

“And be gracious to you.” Every word of this blessing is grace, but here it is in no uncertain terms. Here are sinners set free and death-locked cells sprung open. Here are sons and daughters with the Father’s rich robes thrown over their rags and a banquet spread before beggars. Here is David’s song: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”

“The Lord turn his face towards you.” This blessing assures us that we have God’s attention. This statement explains why the Lord knows what we need before we ask and why we can do our good deeds in secret—because the Lord is paying attention to us! To secure this promise of God’s attention it took Christ’s desolate cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Now we can come boldly to the throne of grace and God will look on us, listen to us, and attend to us.

“And give you peace.” It is this birthright of the believer that meets us when the bottom falls out of the markets or when children wander far or when the doctor’s word was ominous or relationships storm. Here are prodigals in the arms of Abba and sufferers who sing for joy. Jesus echoed this blessing when he said, “My peace I leave with you.” And behind the curtain of this blessing are the portals of glory, our promise of the day when there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

I do not suppose that all these things pass through our congregation’s mind when I pronounce a benediction over it. But it holds all these treasures nonetheless.

Dare to be a priest

Pronouncing the blessing over God’s people is a priestly function. In ancient Israel only the priests could do it, and they did it every time. We pastors—at least in my tradition—don’t think of ourselves as priests very often. We believe in the priesthood of all believers. (And I do believe that any believer can give this blessing to another.) But believe me; when a pastor stands before his people, quietly, till they stop their fidgeting and fix their attention on him; and raises his hands over them (a gesture unique to church); and when he says these words as one who means them, as an emissary of the Lord himself, then God’s people really are blessed.

That’s why the benediction felt strange to me when I first pronounced it years ago. It was too weighty for my voice, too big for a man of my character. I felt peculiar—a little ostentatious—raising my hands over people like a priest. But that is what Aaron did from the very beginning, according to Leviticus 9:22: “Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them.” So I do it, too, for the Lord’s sake.

The benediction is an act of faith. These words must be pronounced by someone who is confident that they are true. They are true for God’s people, I suppose, even if spoken by unbelieving lips, but there is a force in them when they are uttered as they were meant to be—by one who believes he or she conveys God’s vows of love to his Bride. These words are still a blessing to be given to those who love the Lord. Christ certainly fulfilled this blessing, so when we say these lines now they are sprinkled with his blood, filled with his breath, and carried forward in his New Covenant. The New Testament writers, most notably Paul, adapted the essence of the Aaronic blessing into other forms, rich with the language of “grace and peace.” As New Testament people, it is good for us to pronounce these New Testament blessings as well.

Perhaps some churches do not use the benediction because it sounds foreign to the unchurched whom they want to reach. But that is the point! It is foreign. Visitors won’t hear this kind of thing anywhere else. That is exactly why they should hear it when they are with us.

Blessing biases

I have some blessing biases. One is that we should use the blessings of Scripture most of the time, rather than writing our own. The reason for this is simple: I think there is more authority in the direct words of the Bible.

Another bias is that there is a great benefit to the repetition of a few of these benedictions again and again, week after week. I would love it if these magnificent pronouncements became as familiar and unforgettable to the people in our congregation as their own names. They are, after all, our essential identity.

Finally, I believe it is important to memorize these benedictions. Looking at God’s people while we say these words slows us down and helps us weigh God’s words rightly when we say them. Often during the benediction, I find myself making eye contact with someone who desperately needs this blessing.

For what it’s worth, I have taken to singing benedictions quite often. I know that isn’t for everyone, but since I can sing passably, I’ve come to love this form. I use two musical benedictions, both written by Michael Card: “Barocha” (his rendition of Numbers 6:24–26) and “Grace Be with You All” (from Hebrews 13:20–21). All I can tell you is that sweet and holy things happen when I sing these blessings to God’s beloved people.

Blessings do not need to be reserved only for the ends of services, of course. Sometimes I give the blessing to people I visit in the hospital. I require students in a course I teach on pastoral counseling to memorize the Aaronic blessing word perfect, because sometimes it is a healing gift in helping people. I write it sometimes in letters to faraway friends. I always say it or sing it at a Christian wedding, explaining that this is God’s wedding gift for them. I almost always say it when I’m bidding farewell to someone dear. When I know it is someone’s last Sunday at our church I usually point to them as I begin to sing the benediction. On our tenth anniversary at this church, my family joined me on the platform and the congregation sang the blessing to us. My teenaged son was especially moved.

Receiving what’s given

In ancient Israel when the priests would pronounce this blessing, the people would all respond, “Amen.” In some churches, the people have been taught to hold their hands out, palms up, so they remember this is something to be received.

Ultimately, that is the secret of being blessed. We must receive what God gives and we do that by faith. From time to time we need to remind God’s people not to go numb with familiarity, but to take this pronounced blessing as the gift of God that it is.

Biblical Blessings
Here are just a few of the blessings that you can pronounce on your congregation.

Acts 20:32 Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

2 Corinthians 13:14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17: May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

Lee Eclov is senior pastor of Village Church of Lincolnshire, Illinois.

Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.

Source: CHRISTIANITY TODAY

 
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Publicado por em 25/09/2009 em POIMENIA

 

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“Unproductive” Visits

Why must I spend so much time nodding and smiling, when my to-do list is so long?
Scott Penner

What is it about nursing homes and hospitals that makes me squeamish? I thought to myself as I entered The Mira. This was home to a 98-year-old lady from the church and a man several decades younger who needed extensive care following a severe stroke. Is it the smells? Or does entering here force me to think about of the brutality of aging?

Ignoring the butterflies in my stomach, I swung open the heavy doors and set my course by the sounds of music from down the hallway.

Knowing that Dick loved music, I figured that if there were a gathering that included singing, he would be there. The sounds led me through double doors into a common room. People were dancing. Some shuffled awkwardly and others pushed wheelchairs about slowly, but you could tell that inwardly they were dancing with grace. I slid a chair beside Dick. Swinging my leg over the chair, I sat on it backward with my arms folded over the back, my chin resting on them.

“How are you today, Dick?” I ventured.

Our eyes met, locking in a silent gaze. Apparently no words could be found inside the man to express his thoughts. Silence, a long stretch of silence, was all that followed my greeting. I would try something else.

“Hazel was out to church on Sunday. She seems to be doing well.”

More silence. Deafening silence. No apparent recognition of his wife’s name or of church.

What would I want in a visit from my pastor? Not the million questions I posed to Ruth.

Maybe, behind his blue eyes was the desire to say something, but that desire was chained by a body that did not cooperate with its owner. I wanted to look away, to scramble for comfort, but that felt rude. After all, he seemed quite comfortable simply for us to keep looking at each other.

I wondered if he even recognized me. We sat together a long time. He gazed blankly into my eyes. I supposed he was running my image through his memory bank in search of a match.

I recalled my trips to Dick’s farm, a testament to his creativity and ingenuity. He had taken the remains of a worn-out school bus and turned it into a functional sawmill. I can still point to posts holding up our lean-to and boards on our old chicken coop that were milled by Dick on that transformed bus. I pictured the homemade motor home in which they as a family traveled across the country.

It seemed such a shame that those calloused hands that could make anything mechanical work, that could fix anything broken, that felled trees and milled timber, were now soft, white, and shaky. In that moment I grew a bit angry at life, even at God, for allowing my friend to suffer as he did. I wanted to know that if I lived my life for God, as Dick had, that it would conclude with dignity. I —

“Are you going to preach now?” Dick interrupted my mental meandering.

I smiled and patted his back. It felt good to be remembered. But my heart was heavy from the acute reminder of the harshness of growing old. Am I going to preach? No, Dick, not now. But if I were, what would I preach?

Could I hold onto the truth that God is good, even when the evidence around me seems to contradict it? I definitely prefer living by sight, but so often am called to live by faith. With these thoughts rattling around in my mind, I left the dance to find Ruth. She was in a semi-private room down the hall.

Quarantined

“Hi, Ruth. I’m Pastor Scott,” I yelled, answering the question posed by her stare.

Without hesitation Ruth inquired, “How is your new baby? Is it a boy or a girl?”

“It’s a boy, Ruth, and he is doing just fine. Still does not have a handle on sleeping through the night, but other than that, doing fine.”

Ruth had a pencil in her hand that she was using to compute a mathematical equation on scrap paper. On the back of a word search puzzle, she was struggling with two large numbers, subtracting the smaller number from the larger one. The larger number I recognized as the year in which we were living. The smaller number did not ring a bell. The answer to her equation I saw was 118.

“How old am I?” she asked.

Remembering she was quite proud of her age, I answered the way she preferred her age to be told, “If I remember right, you are in your 99th year.”

“Are you sure?”

“No, but I bet we can figure it out.” I said, clueing into her math exercise. “Can I borrow your paper? Let’s see, what year were you born?” She did not have a problem producing that number.

“Now if we subtract that from this year, it would make you … 97.”

I wondered if she was happy or disappointed to hear she was a whole year younger than she’d thought, not to mention the gap between the reality and the possible 118 she had calculated.

Because I am a pastor and not a mathematician, I checked over my work. Whoops! I spotted an error that brought her age up to 98. I apologized for the mistake, then added another year with her word game, making her “in her 99th year.”

“Oh,” she sighed. “Your youngest child? Is it a boy or a girl?”

“He’s a little fella.”

“O-kay,” she sang, giving us permission to have had a boy.

We turned over the scrap paper revealing a word search puzzle. I asked if she would like to work the puzzle with me.

“I already did it.” she stated matter-of-factly.

I have to think so hard when I visit. How could she have done it? There was not a mark on the paper, no indication that this puzzle was ever started, let alone finished. How could I respond to that?

“O-kay,” I sang, giving her permission to have finished the puzzle.

Sensing my bewilderment, she explained that shecompleted it in her head, not on the paper. I asked if I could circle the words on the paper. She did not have a problem with that, but doubted if she could remember where they all were. It sounded to me like we could start from scratch, enjoying the afternoon searching for words together.

It was a Christmas puzzle, and we were off, taking turns finding words. As I reached into a drawer for my own pen, I spotted more scrap paper with more math. Sometimes she ended up being quite young, sometimes she gave Noah a run for his money, and sometimes she ended up 98. I felt sorry for her struggling hard to do the tasks that were so simple only a few years ago. Why does it have to be this way?

“Snowman” and “hayride” were along the edges and easy to find. After she discovered “Christmas Carol” from corner to corner, she inquired again as to the gender of the latest addition to our family.

“A boy, a boy,” she repeated, squinting her eyes as if to squish it into her mind with more permanence.

I wanted to assure her that she could ask me a hundred times and I would not care. But I knew it was for her sake she wanted to remember, not mine.

Again I wondered about growing old, and what that would look like for me. What would I want in a visit from my pastor? What would I appreciate him doing? I knew I would not like to be asked the million questions I usually posed to Ruth. She must have felt a lot of pressure.

I decided I would probably deem it a pretty good day simply to sit and explore a word search with my pastor. That thought lifted the pressure I felt to help her remember it was boy, to find a psalm that fit her situation, to say something wise, or even to pray the right prayer.

I put my feet up with hers on a footstool and relaxed, giving Ruth not my wisdom, brilliance, or professional platitudes, but simply my presence. It was a rare and beautiful moment of believing my presence alone was a meaningful gift.

“Mistletoe,” I said, “how hard can it be to find ‘mistletoe’?” Though it was my turn, Ruth found “mistletoe” for me. It was written backwards. (I did not know that was allowed in a word search.) We mused at her ability to find all the backwards ones, her probably thinking I’d get better as I matured, and me thinking she was doing pretty well for being “in her 99th year.”

I was starting to enjoy myself, oblivious to my own squeamishness, when Ruth’s roommate yelled loud enough for the whole nursing home to hear, “Should we tell your minister we are quarantined because of our diarrhea?”

“Did she say something?” Ruth inquired looking up from the puzzle.

“I’m not sure,” I lied, smiling nervously to myself and trusting God would forgive my lie and either keep me from getting diarrhea or befriend me through it. “Look, here is ‘Christmas tree’ and there is ‘Bethlehem.’ Your turn.”

I looked out the window as Ruth picked out her next orderly word from the chaos of letters. Who else, I wondered, has the privilege of sitting down in the afternoon doing a word search with a friend? I felt blessed to be Ruth’s pastor.

I did read a psalm with her and I did pray with her, but mostly I just sat with her.

I know what you are wondering, well forget it, I’m not telling. You’ll never know if it was a play on words or simply a figure of speech when I said, “Bye for now, Ruth, I’ve got to run.”

No more to do

This past summer our congregation gathered to say goodbye to Dick. At his funeral, I told the story of that particular visit. His question, “Are you going to preach now?” drew some chuckles. We look forward to seeing him in heaven, free from the limitations imposed by his balky body.

Ruth is in her 101st year and still wrestling with the math. I visit her now without agenda, willing to lay aside my to-do list for an afternoon, and with the deep desire that our time together not be an item to check off. I still don’t enjoy the nursing home, and I dread the effects of aging, but I am learning more to trust God in these “unproductive” moments with friends.

Scott Penner is pastor of Truro Alliance Church in Truro, Nova Scotia.

Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.

Source: LEADERSHIP

 
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Publicado por em 21/09/2009 em POIMENIA

 

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The Zoloft Dispensation – Pastoring in the meds age, when everybody’s on something.

Elliott Anderson

One afternoon, I received a call from a professor who had found something disturbing on a student’s drafting table. As dean of students, I went to investigate and discovered a rash of obscene and violent messages depicted in both art and written form. So I confiscated what would be needed to document the handbook violations and assigned a member of our residence life team to track down the artist.

Close to midnight, I heard from a staff member that our missing student was seen running around campus with his shirt off in the pouring rain. They encouraged him to come in and get dry, but he refused. He bunkered down in a dumpster and was convinced he was in tremendous danger.

With my job title and my degree in counseling, guess who was called in for garbage duty?

It took a while to get this young man out of the dumpster and into the dorm, and even longer to get him to go to the hospital with me for an evaluation. Once there, thanks to a release the doctors encouraged him to sign, his history of mental illness was revealed. We learned his supply of medications was depleted, and he had stopped receiving the stabilization he needed to function appropriately.

We gave him every opportunity to return to school and to complete his degree, but it didn’t work out. He eventually returned home to enroll in long-term psychiatric care.

People on campus thought we expelled him for his behavior, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. We just don’t disclose mental health situations over the campus e-mail. Even when accused by others of treating the student unfairly, we kept private information private, and suffered the complaints.

The lessons I learned in my decade serving at a Christian college have served me well in my new role as a pastor. I didn’t expect to find so many people affected by mental illness, meds, and their effects.

According to the 2005 Boston University Slone Epidemiology Center survey on the patterns of medication use in the United States, in any given week, 81 percent of adults in the U.S. are taking at least one medication, from insulin to Ritalin, from blood pressure pills to Prozac.

Given that staggering number, it’s obvious that a sizable percentage of the people in our congregations are on medications, some of which are mood altering or psychotic behavior stabilizers.

Does this change the way we counsel? Does this change the way we preach?

On the college campus, it became more difficult with each succeeding year to deal with medical issues when evaluating a student’s behavior and mental health. This became even harder to assess once the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted in 1996.

HIPAA was instituted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to address the use and disclosure of personal health information. The law was made for all the right reasons; unfortunately, it doesn’t always work for the benefit of those who are being protected. Armed with the appropriate consent forms, we college administrators were usually able to learn of the students’ medical histories so we could stay alert to their wellbeing.

Colleges are all about developing policies, even for ministry. But what about the local church? How can we uncover the medication issues involved in our body? What do we disclose to the staff or leadership team? And what if the leaders are the ones on Zoloft?

Too often we discover a troublesome medical history by accident—or by incident. And although most pastors aren’t medical professionals constrained by HIPAA, we still feel hamstrung about sharing personal medical information.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Something was really different about “Tammy,” one of our church’s regular attenders. She had a hard time making eye contact. She was disheveled and unkempt. She talked in an agitated and staccato pattern, as if she already knew you weren’t listening and assumed you didn’t care. She had obviously been hurt, scarred, or violated, and her tone told me she didn’t trust authority or believe

I could possibly be sincere.

I slowly pieced together her story through conversations with other women in the church. As the years passed and her church relationships grew, Tammy began to blend in as one of our own. She developed some close friendships, and she often stopped by the church office to talk with me and to pray.

Then about a year ago, and for a period of about six months, her life turned tragic. Every week there was a new development: She told us she had developed a liver disease that led to hospitalizations and the medical staff had shaved her head; the death of a close family member produced traumatic grief; she reported a clandestine relationship that turned from romantic to violent; she had wild and crazy phone conversations in my presence with people I’d never heard of. Those ministering to her tried to love and nurture Tammy through all these dramatic episodes, but we were all overwhelmed.

Her story of the death of a second family member sounded too strange to be true. It was.

With a little research, we found all her histrionics were based on lies. Even the phone calls were faked. When we confronted her with the truth, she didn’t fight us. She was defeated and broken and agreed to take steps toward recovery and mental health.

Tammy signed the release forms and agreed for us to discuss her mental health issues with past therapists and caseworkers.

What we discovered in those conversations was that Tammy’s story, like her illness, was many layers deep. The eye-opener was that Tammy had been off her medication for the last six months and had slipped back into psychotic episodes familiar to her former counselors and well-documented in her records.

We loved Tammy as best we could, in ways we thought Jesus would, but we could have served her better by recognizing her medical issues earlier.

Off With Their Meds

I am an experienced therapist who specialized in crisis work, and still I was blind to some obvious signs that Tammy was off her meds. I should have noticed some of the changes, but I think I was caught up in the day-to-day spiritual and relational issues and missed the bigger picture. In review, here are some signs that people are having meds issues—either they need meds, or are off them:

  1. Significant and drastic changes in mood.
  2. Impulsive or random behavior that is contrary to normal functioning.
  3. Inconsistent verbal or non-verbal behavior.
  4. Increased difficulty making eye contact or finishing sentences.
  5. Repeatedly canceled appointments.

Going Public

How common is this in church life? Do people who struggle with interpersonal relationships and exhibit strange behaviors actually need to be on some kind of medication? As pastors, how can we find out this kind of information? After we do, who do we tell?

Key to addressing this issue is creating an environment where it’s okay to admit you have medication and mental health issues. I am now communicating with our congregation in a similar way I did with the staff and students at the college campus. Mental health is a reality, and so is mental illness. We all know people with phobias and disorders. In fact, we are those people.

I try to reduce the stigma by referring to standard mental health issues like depression and addiction in my messages. I use dramatic stories I’ve read as introductions or illustrations. And I try to communicate that mental health issues are not spiritual failings. God heals in many ways, including regular, carefully regulated doses of mood stabilizing drugs. And God can use these conditions to draw people closer to himself.

For some people in our congregation, such as those who ministered to Tammy through an accountability group, mental health is a ministry field. I don’t reveal names or imply that we have such cases in our church, but occasional references to mental and emotional wellbeing are encouraging to the hurting and to those trying to help them.

More important is how we handle mental health issues in our office, specifically when dealing with parishioners who come in for counseling. In most of my pastoral counseling appointments, I ask about medication history and current medications as a routine part of the intake process (see the box “Probing Questions”). I think it is a must.

This may seem intrusive, but most people are very comfortable with this line of questioning these days. If they aren’t, I simply move on. Some folks still feel guilty about taking medication for what they perceive to be “a spiritual issue,” but at least they know I’m open to discussing medications in the future. Because I raised the issue initially, they may feel free to bring it up later.

If they answer the medical questions, I take the time to research the condition on the internet, learning what each medication does and its side effects. Sometimes I call mental health professionals to ask how to deal appropriately with someone using that kind of medication. I don’t reveal names or specifics, just ask for some basic guidelines.

Once I know more, I follow-up by giving the counselee tools for better self-awareness and accountability. And I encourage the counselee to reveal the condition to at least one other trusted person in the congregation. The pastor should not be the only one who knows.

I give the counselee a copy of the information

I gathered. If appropriate, I will challenge him or her to get involved with a small group that deals with such issues—whether that is available at our church or another church in town. In Tammy’s case accountability has proven to be life altering. Although she now lives in a different city, she stopped by last week to visit. She is doing much better, she says, and her mood and behavior have stabilized. It was good to see her smile and to hear her laugh. It was encouraging to know that she has received help and that she is seeing her counselor and doctor as prescribed.

Wait a minute … I have a phone call. It’s one of Tammy’s accountability partners. Tammy’s counselor just called and said Tammy skipped her appointment again. The partner wanted me to know she would be confronting Tammy. It’s good to know that the system we worked hard to get in place is helping us care for one of God’s children.

Probing Questions
They’re nosey, but necessary.

Here are the baseline mental health questions I ask during an initial pastoral counseling visit:

  1. Are you currently taking any medication for this condition? If so, what and how much? If not, have you considered it?
  2. Does your family have a history of this condition? Has anybody else in your family taken medication for this issue?
  3. Are your parents/children/family aware of what this issue is doing to you? Do they think that you should be on medication?
  4. Do they want you to be on medication?
  5. Have you had a mental health evaluation? If so, what were the findings? If not, are you interested in having one?

—EA

I found out I have Bi-Polar Disorder two weeks after I was ordained a deacon. It started several years earlier with a breakdown while I was on a trip to Appalachia with two high school classmates and a Franciscan Brother. We were off to save the world.

It was there I began that roller coaster ride from manic behavior to deep depression. I spent days eating and sleeping too little and praying too much. In my mind I thought that if I ate less, there would be more for the poor. If I prayed more, I would be holy. I wanted to be a saint and decided that I would kill myself in the process if need be.

Within two weeks I was on a flight back to New York with some unknown illness. I had lost a lot of weight, I wasn’t sleeping, I experienced delusions, and I rambled on about anything. The plane ride only added to my agitated state. When I arrived home, my parents took me to a psychiatric hospital.

I spent a long and painful month in the hospital. The goal was to slow the chemical imbalance in my brain and bring me to an even pace. I left never knowing why I was admitted. Everyone hoped it was an isolated event. It was not. It was five years before I even mentioned my illness anyone. Eventually the cycle repeated itself, and again I was hospitalized; by this time, though, I was a priest. That’s when they called me bi-polar.

Heavily medicated this time, I was a virtual zombie for about two weeks. I could not carry on meaningful conversation or deal with reality. The shame remained, as my family and friends were told I was having my appendix removed.

I cried myself to sleep. I felt as if I had descended into hell. Questions flooded my mind: Why is this happening to me? Where is God now? I thought God was on vacation or something, for he certainly wasn’t with me. I felt abandoned.

What I didn’t realize, because of the medications and the disease itself, was that God was right there beside me, crying with me and for me. Even so, I focused my anger on God. I was reminded of Jesus’ innocent suffering, but that doesn’t always help when you’re aching.

I wanted God to reveal saving love by telling me that I didn’t need the medicine anymore. But God didn’t say that, and I do need it, because loving who I am means taking the medicine.

Some time later, while on retreat, the line from Mark’s Gospel hit me: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Mark 12:10). These words haunted me. The rejected stone in my life was the disease. The Lord invited me to accept and embrace my disease so that God could continue to build me into the person God intended. The shame was lifted, but the scars remained.

It has taken twenty years to “let go and let God,” but it has made all the difference. I have now been able to recognize mental illness as one, and only one, aspect of who I am. Once I could embrace that, I could be more in tune with who I am, and who God calls me to be. I was able to live life without shame.

My greatest fear was that I would experience another psychotic attack and never regain my health. Now I am confident that if this should occur, it would not change my relationship with God. My love for God and God’s love for me is so strong that when my body finally surrenders in death we shall embrace again.

“Nothing will separate us from the love of God…” Not even mental illness.

— Jerry DiSpigno Bellport, New York

Elliott Anderson is pastor of Elgin (Illinois) Evangelical Free Church.

Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.

Source: LEADERSHIP

 
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Publicado por em 19/09/2009 em POIMENIA

 

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Money-Back Tithing

Elizabeth Diffin

The Money-Back Guarantee. The friend of consumers everywhere. And at LifeChurch, the promise now applies to tithing.

The Edmond, Oklahoma-based congregation instituted the Three-Month Tithing Challenge. Recognizing that the prospect of giving away ten percent of one’s income can be frightening for first-timers, LifeChurch encourages members to tithe for three months, and look for signs of God’s faithfulness. If members believe God hasn’t proven himself faithful, 100 percent of the tithe will be returned, no questions asked.

In order to prevent abuse, LifeChurch has set up a number of rules. In order to qualify for the challenge, participants must not have tithed in the past six months. Before beginning to tithe, they must fill out a registration form, and at the end of the challenge, any request for a refund must come within 30 days.

The inspiration for the money-back guarantee comes from Malachi 3:10-11, which commands a tithe and promises blessing to those who give faithfully. Two separate sermon series, “Mind Your Own Business” and “Give it Up,” were presented in conjunction with the challenge. They can been viewed on the church’s website, LifeChurch.tv. Overall, the leaders of the church hope to encourage faith among those who give, and they’re waiting for the Lord to do some big things—guaranteed.

No Secrets Aloud

LifeChurch is also bringing back the confession booth—online. The church has a website, MySecret.tv, that allows people to anonymously post their secret sins or personal skeletons. It breaks sin into categories: addictions, shame, abuse. The confessions total more than 1,500 at last count.

Some postings are graphic (the site is for adults 18 and over), but no one is encouraged to wallow in their sin. Instead, the keystone is 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” A collection of “Your Stories of Life Change” demonstrates how strong that cleansing is.

“There is no magic in confessing on a website,” said Craig Groeschel, pastor of LifeChurch. “My biggest fear is that someone would think that and would go on with life. This is just Step 1.” Confessors are encouraged to visit the church or join a small group, and it extols the power of community for healing from past sins.

“We confess to God for forgiveness but to each other for healing,” Groeschel said. “Secrets isolate you, and keep you away from God, from those people closest to you.”

Apparently, confession is still good for the soul.

—With info from LifeChurch.tv, New York Times, and churchmarketingsucks.com

Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.

Source: CHRISTIANITY TODAY

 
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Publicado por em 17/09/2009 em POIMENIA

 

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The X Factor – What have we learned from the rise, decline, and renewal of “Gen-X” ministries?

Collin Hansen

When the willows sway in South Barrington, the evangelical world notices. So Willow Creek Community Church provoked headlines in 2006 when leaders said they would end Axis as everyone knew it. As recently as 2001, about 2,000 young adults had gathered on Saturday nights for alternative music and relevant teaching. But before temporarily closing in 2006, Axis attracted fewer than 400 twenty-somethings. How could a trend-setting ministry decline so severely in just five years?

Due in no small part to Willow’s example, ministry leaders across the country once viewed separate, age-targeted services as the key to reaching a generation largely absent from the churches built by their Boomer parents. Little more than 10 years after Willow launched Axis in 1996, many of these once-prosperous twenty-something ministries have folded, spun off, or morphed. Leaders from these ministries have learned differing lessons from the experiment. Some are now advocating new messages for reaching the emerging generation. Others have changed their ministry’s structure. Still more want better biblical preaching and radical discipleship. All have been provoked to think deeply about the nature and implications of the gospel and have seen their ministries leave lasting effects on the larger church.

Costly conformity

Only one thing surprised Dan Kimball about the Axis reorganization: it took 10 years. Kimball, who teaches and oversees the Sunday gatherings for Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, has tracked many young adult ministries over the years. He estimates that 90 percent of worship services targeting a younger generation run into serious trouble after three years. One factor is the way these age-specific ministries isolate young people from the rest of the church.

He talked to Axis leaders, including Nancy Ortberg, for his 2004 book Emerging Worship. Ortberg told him that the Axis staff interacted little with other Willow Creek leaders. As Axis participants aged, few connected with other Willow Creek ministries. Trouble was brewing. Kimball questioned whether a ministry based on generational preferences could long survive.

“If we are talking about a mindset, then to make someone switch to another approach to spiritual formation and worship when they reach a certain age is a difficult undertaking,” Kimball wrote in Emerging Worship. “It would be like birthing a Korean worship service that uses Korean language, Korean music, and a Korean mindset in all their communications, and then—when they reach a certain age—telling them they can’t worship as Koreans anymore.”

“If your model is based on the big event with one person teaching, I just don’t think it’s going to work.”

Kimball learned this lesson the hard way. In the mid-1990s he served as the young adults pastor at Santa Cruz Bible Church where he began experimenting with a new worship gathering. He darkened the room, arranged the chairs, lit candles, and served coffee. While these moves seem cliché today, they were radical for the time. Within a few years, Kimball’s experiment had become the church’s largest worship gathering. Then the questions started. When will the twenty-somethings start coming to “normal” church?

“So what began as a very exciting missional adventure slowly turned into a tension-filled dilemma. It felt like two churches in the same church,” Kimball said.

Church leaders opted to introduce commonality across generations. The two groups shared a small group structure, music ministry, and even sermons. The strategy didn’t work. Though he started with candles and coffee, Kimball had begun to realize that his generation thought about community, evangelism, leadership, and communication very differently than the older leaders. The relationship had to change, so he decided to end the next generation ministry at Santa Cruz Bible and plant a new church. For the first year, Vintage Faith Church rented space from Santa Cruz Bible Church. Later it merged with another aging congregation. They had facilities; Vintage Faith had people. Those from the older church who persevered through the merger have become grandparent-like figures to the twenty-somethings at Vintage Faith.

“I feel that if we can see church as the people, and not just define church by the worship gathering, a lot would be solved in bridging generations,” Kimball said. “We could focus more on the older mentoring the younger, the older opening their homes and being sages and guides to the younger. Instead we focus so much on getting the twenty-somethings into the main worship gathering. But just sitting in a room for an hour and half looking at the backs of everyone’s heads does not make something intergenerational.”

Conspicuously absent

Not even Kimball knows the exact origin of twenty-something ministries. As more young adults delayed marriage and parenthood, there developed a need for adult ministries that were not family-based. The simplest solution was to follow the model of high school and college ministries. The result was age-specific programs that functioned like youth groups for young adults.

This approach appeared to be working until “Gen X” became a catchphrase in the 1990s and Boomer church leaders noticed their conspicuous absence. Churches across the country began launching worship services designed to attract the missing generation. Willow Creek had Axis, McLean Bible Church launched Frontline, Applewood Baptist in Denver began The Next Level, and North Point in Atlanta started 7|22. The “church-within-a-church” model became the preferred strategy for reaching Gen X.

Daniel Hill attended the first-ever public Axis service in 1996. He remembers it being dark and sad. A young woman dressed in black and wearing black makeup read poetry, fitting the stereotype of Gen X as cynical and pessimistic. But the young adults attending the service were ambitious young executives like Hill. He had moved to the western suburbs after college to work for an internet startup company.

Bill Hybels captivated Hill during a leadership conference when he described the local church as the hope of the world. After this transformative experience, he became more involved in Axis as a small group leader. Then he began to coach leaders and grew close to the Axis staff. But during one severe conflict, every Axis staff member except one quit. The interim director asked Hill to carve out one day per week to help the struggling ministry. By the end of the summer in 1997, Hill had joined the staff.

When Nancy Ortberg took over Axis, she saw promise in Hill. She had little interest in discussions about the emerging church, so she dispatched Hill to represent the Willow Creek Association in meetings with Mark Driscoll, Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren, and others. While working for Axis, he moonlighted at Starbucks and engaged in regular evangelistic conversations. Hill began to feel restless. Like Kimball, he began to see that his generation sought more than a new worship style. Hill was developing a burden for racial reconciliation and social justice, but he felt constrained by the affluent suburban location of Willow Creek. Ortberg encouraged him to dwell in the tension.

Hill decided to experiment with starting an Axis ministry in Chicago. But he despaired when he sensed an expectation that the urbanites attend services in the far northwest suburbs.

“There is a collective sense in the emerging generation that one of the areas of failure in the modern church has been its inability to preach and live a gospel that cuts across racial, cultural, and socio-economic lines,” Hill said. “But people are struggling to know what to do with that sense.”

Ortberg observed that Hill’s loyalties were divided between Willow Creek and the city, so near the end of 2002, she finally nudged him from the nest. He left Willow Creek and founded River City Community Church in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood.

Community hubs

The younger generation’s commitment to social impact, as seen in Daniel Hill’s story, came to impact Axis when it reorganized in 2006. Nine full-time Axis staff and ten interns found other employment within and outside of Willow Creek. Only John Peacock remained. That fall he began rebuilding Axis from the ground up. As the millennial generation replaced Gen X, the time-tested combination of relevant teaching and cool music no longer sufficed. Media-savvy young adults could download all the great teaching and music they wanted for their iPods. Nothing seemed to impress them.

Peacock, 29, recognized he would need to equip twenty-somethings to go and serve as missionaries in their own zip code. He launched missional community hubs, where a core group of four to six young adults move into an apartment complex or condominium unit. Meeting three times per month there, the missional community hubs focus on prayer, Scripture, and community. Keeping with Willow Creek’s mission, the small-group gatherings must be accessible to unbelievers. Outside these Tuesday night meetings, missional community hubs host social events where Christians can mingle with unbelievers. They also serve their neighborhoods with justice and compassion initiatives. Those who want to invest even deeper can meet in gender-specific life transformation groups where two to five young adults study Scripture and hold each other accountable. Everything Axis does today comes back to the need to build tight-knit communities in order to reach the millennial generation.

“The model must be relational,” Peacock said. “If it is based on the big event with one person teaching, I just don’t think it’s going to work. We’ve learned to break these things down into smaller communities where people actually know each other. We didn’t come up with it, but our mantra is, ‘People belong before they believe before they behave.’ Many people in this generation are already coming in with distrust toward God and the church. The more relational environments we have, the more trust can be built and people will be more open to exploring Christianity.”

The hubs come together only one time per month for the Axis Experience, where Peacock teaches briefly, a band leads worship, and representatives from the missional community hubs celebrate stories together. But even these gatherings have been broken down into smaller segments. Peacock leads the Axis Experience in South Barrington at the main Willow Creek campus on the first Friday of the month, but the first Saturday he leads a similar meeting in Chicago near Wrigley Field, where many young adults live.

A commitment to relationships rather than events also explains Peacock’s drive to partner Axis members with mentors. There are currently more than 30 people over the age of 50 attending Axis gatherings and actively mentoring younger believers. Those involved in the eight urban hubs are also a bit older than the suburban demographic. According to Peacock, the city groups range between the ages of 24 and 34. He isn’t sure whether these older members will stay involved with Axis or transition into other Willow Creek ministries, but he has encouraged them to mentor younger leaders.

If small, home-based, relational groups are the best way to reach twenty-somethings, then one question begs to be asked: What will happen to Willow Creek and its massive auditorium? Peacock says Willow Creek’s senior leadership sees Axis as a research and development department, and Bill Hybels has been one of their “biggest fans.” But does the Axis shift indicate that Willow Creek will need to put even more emphasis on its small groups and perhaps scale back its Sunday morning services? Or will today’s nearly 400 Axis members, 95 percent of whom are single and without kids, grow into “Big Willow” as they age?

“I do think when variables change in their lives, like getting married and having kids, that will adjust some things,” Peacock said. “However, this generation’s desire to connect will always be there. I don’t think that when they turn 30 they will suddenly want something different. But we’ll need to be flexible to adapt to their lifestyle and life stage.”

Peacock has already shown flexibility in his leadership style, which he describes as open-source leadership, likening it to Wikipedia. He establishes a baseline of trust but then unleashes other leaders to do the work of ministry. He and three other staff members spend the bulk of their time developing lay leaders, equipping all believers to live up to their priestly calling. To make this decentralized structure work, Peacock has laid out strict training requirements for prospective leaders. Over four weeks he and other staff imprint leaders with the Axis vision so they can shepherd missional community hubs and deal with day-to-day crises. Driven by principle and necessity alike, Peacock said working with younger generations demands a new leadership style for fellow staff and lay leaders.

“Your staff culture has to represent the culture you’re trying to create in the wider church,” Peacock said. “That’s one of the biggest misses in contemporary church work. You have a business-run, top-down, bottom-line culture yet you’re trying to bring around a loving, transformative culture in your community. It just doesn’t work.”

Integrated, Sort Of

Justin Buzzard was hired by a church that couldn’t help but notice the obvious lack of twenty-somethings attending worship services. Central Peninsula Church in the Bay Area of California charged Buzzard to preach the gospel to the least-churched age group and cast a vision for them to live radically centered on God and his gospel. Three years later, the church’s twenty-something ministry claims about 150 members in a church whose attendance tops 2,000.

Buzzard, 30, has found a receptive audience among young professionals who moved to the Bay Area for work and longed for community. Many had some religious background which they had rejected. Some who grew up in the church had heard distorted messages more concerned with good morals than grace. The welcoming community at Central Peninsula allowed them to take another look at Christianity.

Buzzard’s approach is a departure from the “church-within-a-church” model pioneered in the ’90s. Rather than building a next generation worship gathering Buzzard regularly reminds the young adults their ministry is no substitute for the local church. Sunday morning is more important than Thursday night, he says. The body of Christ needs them to serve children, mentor high schoolers, and glean wisdom from aging members.

“Twenty-somethings want and desperately need someone to yell at them from the Bible. They need an authoritative voice in their life.”

Having learned from the example of other next generation ministries, leaders at Central Peninsula Church suppressed the tendency toward intergenerational dissension with one key decision made when hiring Buzzard—he regularly preaches before the entire congregation on Sunday mornings. The church doesn’t see him as a youth pastor for young adults, but as another shepherd and teacher for the whole congregation. Just listening to a young preacher and seeing many young faces in the congregation has reminded the church that their God is mighty to save.

“The Baby Boomer’s strategy was getting the people most likely to attend church,” Buzzard said. “Our strategy is to find those least likely to come to church.”

Beyond preaching the gospel and loving people, Buzzard doesn’t claim any special strategy for reaching twenty-somethings. In fact, Buzzard said he approaches church elders twice a year to tell them to shut down the twenty-something ministry. But these leaders continue to recognize a need to set aside at least one teacher who will focus his efforts on young adults, injecting the larger church with life, vitality, and sound doctrine. It’s the best job in the church, Buzzard said.

“My very strong opinion is that twenty-somethings want and desperately need someone to yell at them from the Bible,” Buzzard said. “They need a pastor, an authoritative voice in their life who will stand up and proclaim God’s Word, to proclaim the gospel.

“I’m always saying that this is a prime, ripe season in your life to catch a vision for God and get centered on Christ. The choices and decisions you’re making during this decade are setting a trajectory for the rest of your life. The older you get, the harder it is to change. A lot of older folks in our church say they wish they could have done their twenties differently.”

Over the long term, Buzzard wants the twenty-something ministry to be the hose that waters the rest of the church, encouraging older members to take risks for Christ.

Adopted for Life

While Buzzard joyfully if reluctantly leads a separate ministry for young adults, several others have folded for good. Shortly before Axis reorganized, Jarrett Stevens moved to suburban Atlanta where he led 7|22, a twenty-something ministry at North Point Church. But church leaders recently closed down 7|22—not for lack of interest, but because the larger church had taken on the ministry’s ethos. It had simply become redundant.

“So many churches have responded positively to what was being experimented with by twenty-something ministries,” Kimball said. “Now these experiments are being adopted into the life of the main church itself.”

Nevertheless, churches differ on exactly how to experiment with twenty-something ministry. Some younger leaders have favored independence, concluding that older models neglected discipleship and commodified the gospel in order to build bigger churches. Some have forsaken centralized teaching and large worship events in favor of small group discussions. Yet others advocate stronger preaching, heavy doses of doctrine, and passionate challenges to apply the gospel.

But across the spectrum, twenty-something ministry leaders say reaching the millennial generation will require more than playing mainstream music, dimming the lights, and talking about sex. All see deep, genuine community as a crying need and key avenue for communicating and displaying the gospel.

Collin Hansen is a Christianity Today editor at large and author of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists.

Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.

Source: COMMUNITY LIFE

 
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Publicado por em 15/09/2009 em POIMENIA

 

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