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Posts Tagged ‘preaching’

We have been attending our church now for well over two years.  We’ve been members for almost a year (I think, I’m terrible with dates etc, I remember how long we’ve attended because we started in January two years ago).    I enjoy the sermon, and the brief talks we have with people.  We do have some people we are getting closer too.  But, there is no excitement when getting ready to go to church.  It’s not that we ever regret going, we just don’t look forward to it here, unless we’re talking kids, they love it.

We still feel distant.  The sermons are solid, even it seems with the associate pastor.  He gave a sermon on “the law” yesterday, and it was one of the best I’ve heard him give.  Not an easy topic, and yet he hit it.   We are in this church because the preaching is solid.  We are in this church because it has no agenda in terms of promoting men’s books or pastors, it is not even about the lead pastor.  What I see in this church is strong teaching directly from the bible.  I see people who live their lives according to the bible as far as I can tell.

So, why the distant feelings?  I believe there are two definite and obvious possible reasons.  One is that it’s us, the other is that it’s the church.

I think we have been distant ourselves for self preservation.  We came out of a church with problems, serious problems.  I now think our former pastor was a bit of a bully.  I did not like the church being led by Warren, Hybels, and others.  The small groups were less about good true teaching from God’s word that any young church member could run a small group with just a meeting place and a DVD player.  Seriously.     We did learn there, there was some good teaching.  However, there was enough of the bad we had to get out.    But before we really opened our eyes to the problems, I need to say that we looked forward to Sunday.  We were going to church.  There were friends there.  I can think of some specific people, some awesome and wonderful Christian friends (some of whom are no longer there for various reasons, most left because they saw issues too).  We had fun there, we had fellowship there.  Despite all the problems, the goal for many of the people we were in fellowship with was to live the Christian life and was to honor God.  It’s just that the leadership derailed some of that, pushing people into manditory studies of Warren books, or preaching from simple formulas.  Not all messages were bad.   What really drew us back again and again?  The people.  We also enjoyed the music most of the time, and the pastor who lead music always read directly from scripture and included it in his worship sets.

We were also immature and not seriously paying attention, we were responsible for being in a place with bad teaching (again, not most of the time…it was good sometimes).  We didn’t really examine the Purpose Driven Life the first time around.  I understand that people were fighting in small groups over that book.  We were just immature, laughing at Rick Warren’s shirts and generally doing just enough to get by, we were in it.  This makes it hard for us to trust ourselves now, we know we bought it or ignored it ourselves.  We were not really in the bible in our own free time enough, we had a weak personal life with God.   We relied on church time and small group a lot for our own personal study of God’s word.   So, our own faults kept us blind.  Our own ignorance and laziness kept us quiet.

We also enjoyed all the extra stuff our church had for our kids.  There were carnival like events, soccer camps, VBS events that were more like summer camp than VBS.  There were concerts and more.  Most was free for our family.  Even without money, we could get.   Thinking back, that’s part of it.  We had some time when my husband lost his job, and really, financially, we struggled for years after due to his gaining a job with much less pay as we had bought our house when he was employed at a higher salary.  We kept having kids, and sometimes we couldn’t pay our bills.  Our car died, the church gave us an old but working car.  Our furnace died in the middle of the winter, we were struggling to buy groceries, the church paid the bill for the repair.  We were taken care of.  Our kids were taken care of, and were kept busy and entertained.  Our family was given fun in a time when we couldn’t afford it ourselves.  Our family was strong, and we had great friends too.  Our social standing as “poor” in the church didn’t mean anything except we were a couple who could be served.

Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t just take, we did give as Sunday school teachers, Awana leaders, and helpers in various capacities.  We tried to be there for the church, and even began to lead a small group with DVD’s and books for a while ourselves.

So now, we’re members in this new church and we’ve avoided mooching.  This is a good thing, but it means we don’t feel the gratitude for all the help.  It means we’re not depending like we did in our former church.  We also avoid small groups because of schedule conflicts, but I also believe because of fear.  That kind of commitment, meeting together, is a risk.  What if small group is the same?  Sure, we might make some great friends.  We did in the former church, and I believe we did meet with brothers and sisters in Christ.  But what if we find bad teaching?  We’ve made a commitment in membership, and I refuse to just leave without a very good reason.  If there is error, we’d have to learn how to properly address it (not sure we properly handled the former church, though we think we did in some ways….).  It’s a risk to get close, to open up.  Not taking the risk though, it means we haven’t spent time with the members to really get to know them.  In fact, our church offers Sunday night activities.  We don’t attend.  We also don’t go to the Wednesday night things because our kids are in activities.   We miss out, and I think has made it harder to get to know people.

Yes, it’s possible it’s our fault, very possible.  What if it’s the church though?  They do reach out and offer all these activities.  They introduce themselves to new people.  They speak to us.  We’ve gone to some church wide events, but we still feel like strangers there.   We have not been invited to people’s houses for dinner, or even out to dinner.  I attended a women’s retreat, and it was okay.  I had my little one with me and she my priority.   One woman was exceptional in her contact, but we don’t really intentionally call one another or anything regularly, we’re just friendly at church.  We do have a few families we knew before we went to this church that we have deeper relationships with, but not the people who were there before we got there.

Some of it might be that the church building itself is basically a big sanctuary with a hallway and entry lobbies on two sides.  There are small classrooms, and is no  real formal meeting area besides.  There is not space to stand around and talk really, it’s clogged in transition time in and out of the church.  There’s no place to really sit and enjoy.   There’s no big kitchen (I think there might be a very small stove there), so meals are all pot luck and it’s mostly picnics.  There’s not a real “fellowship room.” The teen  Sunday school  room is used for this, but it seems there’s not really a place in the church to get together other than the sanctuary (which is more like a gym with a stage than an actual church sanctuary…chairs come up and it’s a basketball court).   People do chat there, but it’s not easy to just sit somewhere and really seriously talk.

So, our issue is trying to figure out what involvement we need to do in order to be connected to the people.  Likely, we need to find ways to be more involved.  We also need to be willing to serve.  I am helping with VBS this summer, that will at least put me with other women who are helping.  We really need connection to other families too, people who feel safe with a large family.  I know some of it is that my home is not really a hospitality haven, because we could be very active in inviting others over for dinner, which would be less intimidating than having people invite our large brood over.   Some changes can be made that are practical.  But if we make the effort and still feel distant, what then?  Good preaching, no fellowship in our hearts?  I still feel we’ve made a commitment…

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Well, this morning my husband has to work.  This means I alone get the kids ready for church.  My 6 year old, after we were about to get shoes on and go out the door, is telling me she’s ill and has taken out “the big bowl.”  So now, all my fancy dressed children are stuck at home with me.  We’re officially missing church.  However, I am sad.  In the early stages of switching churches, we might miss for illness, or even sleep in by accident and force ourselves to go.  We were still raw from our break with the former church, and church itself was a chore no matter how great the church.

We still do not feel relationally “plugged in” as most church lingo calls it these days.  We see people, they’re friendly, they pray.  The people we knew before we came to this church are connected and we can get in depth with them easily in converstation, but we’re not “in” yet.  Despite this, there’s enough there that missing is sad to me.  I really enjoy the messages/study from scripture.  The pastors really teach even more than preach in my opinion.  The people are friendly and though we’re not settled in, I know it will happen.  They serve and have offered though we’ve not taken them up on it yet.  It will take time, but they are surely going to become family.

So today marks an interesting moment, it’s not the social aspect drawing me…but it’s the fact that this church focuses on revealing Christ through the bible.   Every time someone stands to add membership, they say the same thing with different words.  They say this church teaches from the bible.   Most of the time they say they had been to other churches, but THIS church is different in that the pastors teach with an expository style, they do not get wrapped up in the popular but in the scriptural.  The second thing always expressed is the kindness of the people.  This is evident.  If my husband and I stand in membership, we’ll likely express the same thing.

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There are many, many pastors who have no business being at the pulpit.  This is one reason we have all the issues we have in the church, pastors who either don’t take their job seriously, are ill prepared, and of course, there are also those who are “peddlers of the word” and those who are just plain wolves.  Here are a few links that make the point clear about pastors and preparation.  It may seem a nit picky topic to correctly pronounce Greek and Hebrew, but taking the current state of churches today, I say it’s better for pastors to study more not less.

http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2009/07/pastordude-please-before-you-say-that.html

http://bibchr.blogspot.com/2009/07/1-timothy-215-parable.html

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Going through the gospel of John as a congregation at our new church continues to contradict our former church.  Weekly, my husband and I will have at least one (if not many) sideways knowing glances with one eyebrow up.  First there was the reference to what the entire book is written for.  “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God…”  John wasn’t written to have us interpret each and every detail with mystery.  No mystery, straight forward “you must be born again.”  Each week we hear the events as John records them, and how the people reacted to Jesus, and what Jesus said and did.  No new meanings applied, just the plain facts based on scripture.  We might move to a later part of John or to another gospel to show the importance of this or that scripture or the cultural significance of this or that  part of John…or we might move to the Old Testament when appropriate to bring up long standing traditions of men being broken or scripture being fulfilled, or to show why something was done this way in the days when Jesus walked the earth.   It’s refreshing to just read along with the pastor, and to not get “red flags” every so often causing a completely different reason for the sideways glances and eyebrows.  It’s nice to actually hear all about Jesus and not about the pastor’s kids and wife in a story to make whatever point.  It’ s nice not to hear canned stories and jokes that I can find immediately online in some other pastor’s sermons.  It”s nice to hear about the gospel  and not the plans of the church to build this or that.  No slick videos promoting the different ministries in the church or calls to give to the new building campaign, no calls to serve the emerging generation and to pass the baton.  No limited focus on families with babies or on youth.  So far, it appears the pastor and this new church are focused on Christ, Christian living as revealed in the gospels.  Quotes are almost always from the bible, and if they are from someone else they are always cited well.  I really cannot recall a quote from someone except John this past few months, but I’m not saying there hasnt’ been one…maybe quoting Piper or MacArthur?  I don’t have to go home and read up on strange authors or search out who the new speaker at our pulpit is (who came from out of town).  It’s just been our pastors at the pulpit.  There’s not a lot of  repetition of themes, no pounding us with the same terms and redefining them over and over again (like missional, transformation, etc).  There’s rarely a “new conference” or “retreat.”  Yes, they do have a men’s retreat coming up, but it’s not been overblown.  No promises that you’ll come back a completely new and improved husband and father.  It’s just a weekend away with speakers, the bible, and prayer.  And the sermons, they are longer.  Here’s church…pray, then song time with scripture reading.  Next sermon (again started with prayer and including scripture).  Prayer again then offering with instrumental music.  I think another song. Announcements.  Prayer…and that’s it.

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We have maintained contact with one pastor from our old church as he is very concerned with the changes and the emergent message.  He did email today and shared that the lead pastor is planning in some way to address the issues with the emegent church.  This is good news, but I fear it may not go far enough.  I hope that the church recognizes the influence of Dallas Willard and others (Beth Moore, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren) is part of the problem.  There is a disconnect with the “emerging” side, not realizing they are headed in the same direction.  Emergent have just gotten further down the path.  Maybe we should meet with this lead  pastor, at least to point to the truth and to his responsibility to adhere to it and preach it.  He cannot make the elders change their votes and change the system, but he can preach the truth even if it risks his job. 

On another note, we were called last night by an elder asking if we knew why people left (there are others, of course).  Specifically, it was asked if changing the children’s midweek program was the issue, which it wasn’t by itself.  He also asked about another couple’s reasons for leaving, which I felt was not entirely appropriate because we may know what we’ve been told, but should we be sharing?  In general is one thing, but a specific couple is another altogether.  It’s starting to sound like they at least notice the numbers headed for the door and want to fix this problem.  However, if they have been following the Warrenite system, they will expect this loss of people and will be proud of themselves for getting through this rough time.  We shall see in a few years how they’ve handled it…and if they’ve changed or not.  My husband is not at all interested in going back.

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I spent a few weeks on the letter to my pastors.  It was one of the most difficult things I have written in that I wanted so much to convey my thoughts and my concerns.  I wanted it to be a warning, and to be specific enough to get the point across.  I wanted the letter to express our family’s love for our church.  My rough draft had too much wishy washyness, I believe.  I filtered the letter through a few people, one was a man who helped by making it less female but he kept the word “feelings” in there and I had to get that out.  This was not a matter of feelings, it was a matter of conviction or truth.  What I feel about something on chruch doctrine doesn’t matter.  What I see that was happening and if it matches up with the truth of scripture does.  In the end, I used the quote from lighthousetrails.com on the last post.  I added a few more.  I pretty much drew a line from my pastor, to Donald Miller, to the New Age movement.  I also added a quote on the definition of missional by Michael Frost from a youtube speech he gave at a conference.  I shared our concerns from this definition that takes the focus of the church off of Christ and puts all energy, and centrality on mission.  I then shared a few confusing things my pastors have said in sermons.  Phrases like “god consciousness” and “wholly other” and “christ coursing through your veins” just don’t come from normal Christian jargon nor from the Bible itself.  It only takes a short Google search to discover them in New Age or other religions.

I also took the advice of one pastor I had spoken to and showed what our church was missing, the Bible.  I used many quotes, and also looked up “preach” on .  It was VERY helpful.  Acs is full of references to preaching.    The early church “preached the word,” “preached the good news of the kingdom” “preached in the synogogues that Jesus is the Son of God” and on and on.  They preached about Jesus, and the kingdom of God and guess what?  Church grew.  That’s the model.  Later, when they had a community built up, they assigned some to be deacons and to serve in the churches to meet the needs of the widows and orphans.  So that is legitimate, the church should have it’s people who preach, it’s people who meet the needs within itself.  As Christians we’re called to do good to our neighbors, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison.  This is good too….but now I’m rambling on.  I didn’t include all that in the letter.  I did though list a few Acts references to preach as I feel our pastors spend time on topics/books of men rather than the Bible, the good news of Jesus, etc. 

I also shared my concern with the church being involved in the youth camps/missions in our area.  It’s probably going to be the first time anyone complained about the youth camps.  I did not give references except to say we researched and the leadership of the camps is into meditation in the eastern form.  I think I said enough that the pastors themselves could investigate.  I heard a sermon by the leader himself by podcast, and he outlined several ways to medidate and lectio divina, also using a prayer rope, and praying the Jesus prayer (Christ have mercy) over and over again.  He says he teaches this at his camps, and at one point mentions the numbers of youth I think 25,000 affected by his camps plus 5,000 camp leaders.  I didn’t go into detail, but if I get a call or something I’ll share the link with the pastors so they can know what this man is about.  I do not think anyone will though. 

I feel for my pastor I’ve been talking to.  He is hoping we get some sort of response.  He may not like the response.  This job is his livelyhood, his wife doesn’t work that I know of except maybe for lessons.  He is in a tight spot for sure.  Of course, maybe someone will see it…at any rate I let the pastors know they each had the letter (four of them total…we have many more on staff).  This was calculated.  I want them to be able to openly discuss the letter, and to discuss us as they please.  I want to free them from the worry of gossip and let them share their thoughts.  I also stated in the letter I hoped that it edified the whole body of our church.  If people want to openly talk about this issue, I have no problems.  Our church usually keeps things confidential.  I do not think it’s unhealthy to do this.  But in this instance, so much is so quiet.  We decided to leave, so it’s not harming us…they cannot kick us out for our observations.  We cannot be disciplined.  If we do decide to go back, things will have had to change anyway. 

I feel relief and a bit of anticipation as the pastors will be discussing this soon, I am sure. 

in tags, I’m not sure using the term emergent is off, but I think our church had been growing into one.  I think that’s what Warrenite churches grow into when they grow up a bit (maybe early teen years)…emergent.  Later, they just probably become something else as everything is still in shift.

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