Reflections on the Song of Solomon

download  Recently I started a Bible study on the Song of Solomon, romantic I know.  Actually, I have been trying to find a good study for a number of years, and I finally came across one a few weeks ago at a thrift shop, no less.  It’s called “What Every Girl Wants: A Portrait of Love and Intimacy in the Song of Solomon” By: Lisa Harper.

The Song of Songs is a brilliant collection of love poetry.  Its tone is evocative and rich with sexual imagery to the point where many scholars have questioned its rightful place in the Bible.  Some believe it degrades Holy Scripture, but I believe it’s what makes it beautiful.  This steamy romance novel, and the unfolding of the ideal love narrative, goes far beyond allegorical.  And while there is some semblance between its representation of Christ and His Bride, it also speaks to us at a far more human level about far more earthly and temporary concerns.

Nevertheless, I have to admit that there is one verse that keeps surfacing for me “do not awaken love until it is time.”  This phrase, repeated twice by Solomon’s bride, Shalumith, calls for consideration.

The first time we read this verse in the song is chapter 2 verse 7.  Dreamy Shalumith who is in the early stages of infatuation begs her companions “Daughters of Jerusalem [my deepest friends and most trusted confidants], I charge you [urge, make a strong request, beg] by the gazelles and by the does of the field: do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” Just a few verses later, in the throes of her passionate romance and when things are really heating up, she repeats the exact same request with the exact same wording (chapter 3 verse 5).

I think it’s a lovely concept and I have employed it on more than one occasion when I’ve felt men pressuring me a bit too much.  And I’m not just talking about outright sex here.  I’m talking about things like being official, calling each other “pet” names, or whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears.

But what exactly does this mean and how might we apply it to our situation?

Love is Patient

When someone thinks they are in love (read: infatuated, not actually in love) they often seek to speed up the natural process of getting to know one another.  Women are just as guilty (if not more so) of this then men.  Either gender might have a tendency to push marriage or being in an official relationship, but it is dangerous to awaken the power of love before both parties are ready for such a commitment.

We’ve heard it countless times and from people of all ages and both genders.  “If you really loved me you’d ___” fill in the blank.  If you really loved me, you’d ask me to marry you right now.  If you really loved me, you’d get me a diamond.  If you really loved me, you’d do this or wouldn’t do that.  While it’s true that if love is genuine it needs to lead somewhere (preferably a long-term commitment in holy matrimony) the truth is, that love cannot be self-seeking.  We cannot use the love card in order to manipulate someone into doing something they really and truly don’t want to do.  We cannot force love and try as we might, we cannot convince someone who really hasn’t fallen for us that they actually want to.

I find it so interesting that even in Christian settings we are willing to cloak our own selfish wants and ambitions in the fine print of love.  This is so contrary to Scripture which outlines in 1 Corinthians 13 exactly what love entails and the characteristics of this deep intimacy.  In this list, the Apostle Paul’s very first qualification for love is that it’s PATIENT.  You’ve heard the old adage, true love waits, but being patient is far more than merely waiting for your wedding night to have sex.  In fact, being patient encompasses being willing to wait, period.  Being willing to wait as long as it takes to woo the person, taking into consideration any past experiences, and being willing to work with them through it.   St. Paul then goes on to say that love is not arrogant, is not self-seeking, and does not keep a record of wrong.  How much different than the “fake” love we often espouse in our culture – a love that cares mostly about itself, getting a prize, and playing “hard to get.”

How We Awaken Love Before It’s Time

One of the most common ways people of this generation awaken love before it’s time is by our incessant use of social media and online forums.  With so much access to pornography, steamy romance literature, chat sites, and glamour magazines, it is becoming increasingly harder to contend for purity in a sex-crazed world.  Nevertheless, as Christians, it is our duty to place a guard over our hearts so that we do not go too far too fast.

This is unfortunately one area that many Christians misunderstand.  Many Christians mistake naivety for purity believing that they need to completely repress any sexual feelings until marriage.  However, as Lisa Harper so wisely points out “there is a difference between prudishness and purity.”  God calls us to the latter and this is what pleases Him most.

It’s important to understand here that purity does not simply mean having limits like “no kissing before engagement”.  These can certainly be helpful markers and boundaries in a relationship, but real purity is based on your integrity with others.  Real purity affects our eyes, your speech, and the condition of your heart.  Real purity also avoids any appearance of evil – even if you know in your heart that you didn’t do anything “wrong,” it’s important how younger Christians might perceive you so as not to cause them to stumble either. I love this quote by Francis Schaeffer on the topic, “Our calling is not just to be the faithful bride, but also the bride-in-love.  A bride has not been faithful just because she has not slept with anyone else.”

You’ll also notice that in the Song, Shalumith recognizes her need to enlist others in her battle for purity.  Why?  I believe the reason is two-fold.  Firstly, Shalumith probably knew the old Hebrew proverb that “two is better than one because if one falls there is no one to help him up.”  When we are in a relationship, it’s easy to lose sight of our focus in the heat of the moment and because we don’t want to do something we will later regret, we need to enlist a mentor.  My former youth pastor said it well, when you’re dating you need “accountability with teeth.”  We cannot rely on ourselves to be strong enough when temptation comes, we need to know that there will be consequences for our actions or the disappointment of someone close to us whom we admire.

Although it’s easy to place all the pressure on single people to “not do it” I don’t think married people are exempt from this clause either – in fact, I think if anything, married couples have even more responsibility and thus require even more accountability.  I’m a huge advocate of having “marriage mentors” especially in the early stages of marriage.  You need someone who’s been married much longer than you, to look up to and meet.  You also need people to go to for support when you’ve been married for a long-time and your marriage suddenly seems void of action and the secretary starts looking mighty fine.

Secondly, I think in a very real way Shalumith was telling her friends “mind your own business.” Think about the context here.  In the ancient times, women got married very young – essentially once they hit puberty.  Marriage was vital for women in that time period because it’s how they would receive their financial security.  There was no “self-made woman” back there.  There was no “playing hard-to-get” because in a very real way, it was a necessity.  So, in my mind I picture these adolescent girls gossiping like middle schoolers.  “Did you see that dreamy look Solomon (AKA: hottie, AKA: Hunk, AKA: the tank) just gave Shalumith?  Did you see her flirting back?  I bet he’s the one.”  I can see them staking out behind the well with only their head sticking out from behind the iron fence just waiting to catch them holding hands.  And I can see Shalumith shaking her head and in an almost jovial way responding “girls, mind your own business, I’m sure the right guy will come along for you, too.”  Don’t awaken love.  Don’t make a bigger deal than what’s actually going on.  Don’t gossip to the town about what you think’s going to happen before he’s even met my dad and gotten his approval.

I think both cases are possibilities for why Shalumith doesn’t want this love to be awakened until she is sure and confident that this man really is about to sweep her off her feet.

But What If Love Was Awaken Before We Were Ready

The sad reality for many women is that this romantic, idealized love they so readily dream of seems elusive and beyond reach.  Sometimes because they were manipulated by a so-called lover to “give” before marriage out of fear or a threat to leave them.

And other times, something much worse happens.  The sadly no longer shocking statistics show that more and more women are subjected to sexual violence, abuse, and assault.  The unfortunate reality is that many women have had sexual experiences awakened before they were ready, and when it was the furthest thing they wanted.  Many of these women continue to feel the effects years later even when they have found the right man who truly understands and is willing to wait.

And this is one reason why I feel like the Song of Songs is so relevant and important within the lives of young Christian women today.  The Songs help us reclaim, restore, and renew the passionate romance that is rightfully ours.  In a world that has forgotten what real love is and replaced it with a thin, ghastly shadow of nothing but lust and objectification, the Songs harken us back to a fuller and more mature understanding of intimacy and the value of love.  To fully delight in the passionate romance between two people is exactly what God designed for us and is willing to offer.  Even though our world has mired and messed up this vision, God still calls out to us, wooing us to Himself and embracing us in His ever present love, grace, compassion, and kindness.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

Shalumith knew the secrets to a long-lasting, God ordained passionate romance, and we can, too.

True love is patient, it doesn’t manipulate the other partner by making “what if” statements.

True love doesn’t apply pressure, doesn’t rush the other person, and provides space and freedom.

True love understands and seeks to put the other person above one’s own needs and desires.

True love seeks to be pure, accountable, and honest with mentors and friends.

True love believes the best, and reclaims the original vision God granted to us:

A vision which knows not to awaken love before it is time.

When Media Turns Monstrous: Keeping Kids Safe Online and Off

download   I’ve never been much for television, and I say that honestly.  I’m not one to sit in front of the tube and watch mindless hours of comedy, I am not up on the latest shows, and I don’t stream a single season of anything.  I’ve never even watched Gilmore Girls or Once Upon a Time and I haven’t seen a CSI or Big Bang episode in over a year.  Due to my hyperactivity, I don’t take great joy in watching something I can’t interact with, although I have been known to hit the cinemas when a new movie really peaks my interest.

Nevertheless, now that I work in children’s ministry, there is a current trend that I have noticed and actually become a bit concerned about.  I’ve noticed a lot of parents are overly cautious about any movie they deem to be a bit “scary.”  And scary can range from an actual horror movie to the beast ranging out in Beauty and the Beast.  That’s not bad in and of itself, however, my concern is that while parents are being preoccupied with protection they are falling to address the bombardment that occurs daily in their kid’s life.  While parents try to control what their kids see, they don’t fully realize that children are being exposed to other potentially harmful material.

Taking a trip down memory lane, I remember my own childhood.  I used to watch all the classics: Beauty and the Beast, Pinocchio, and Snow White.  I was well versed in Cinderella, Pocahontas, and The Lady and the Tramp.  Virtually everyone I knew from these early days, grew up on the same diet of this “dreadfully scary stuff” and yet, now that we’re older, I don’t think it has adversely affected any of us.  In fact, I have yet to hear of a single person undergoing intensive counselling as a result of seeing a scary scene in Recess.

Have the movies truly become scarier or have parents simply become more resistant?  And why is it that old classics like Brother Bear and Spirited Away now have to be re-watched and kicked to the curb because of questionable content?  Is Ursula in The Little Mermaid truly causing nightmares or are the nightmares coming from a different source altogether?

Visual Overload

Let’s be honest.  Regardless of where you find yourself in this debate, we cannot ignore that what the eyes take in affects our mental stimulus.  And nowhere is this more powerful than in the movies.  Depending on how sensitive you or your child is, even a simple advertisement or preview can awaken feelings and cause disturbances.  And when it comes to a full-length movie, something that happened several scenes back can still be lingering in your child’s mind.

I know to some degree, the same can happen with books or live-presentations, however, there is something unique about the way movies and television sear images into our brains.  Part of the reason is the fast-pace it moves it.  Anyone with a basic understanding of film culture knows that a movie (or show) is made up of a sequence of short frames.  Generally speaking, these frames last mere seconds before moving on to the next set.  So while the plot line might take a while to develop, say 10 minutes, your child potentially could have already seen 50 or more frames.  For a young mind, this can be hard to compute and almost impossible to differentiate.  And that’s why it’s easy to stay stuck on what we see.

But this problem doesn’t just affect children, it also affects grown-ups.  This is the main reason why so many people struggle with pornography (and not just men, more and more women are admitting to the fact that they have also fallen prey to this snare).  Pornography works in the same way as what I just described.  It appeals to physical lust and confuses the mind by thinking it is viewing attraction when in reality, it is completely damaging one’s soul.  These images are then carefully lodged into one’s mind, seared into one’s conscience and become impossible to unravel.  And that’s why, whenever you meet someone who has struggled with this horrendous temptation, they will admit that even if they haven’t looked at porn in months or years, they can still re-call certain scenes in their mind if they concentrated hard enough.  This is so scary to think about because when you consider how much visual input our mind receives daily through social media, websites, movies, television, and other means, to still be able to recall a disturbing scene is nothing short of demonic.

Understanding a bit about the way the mind works in response to visual stimulation is important, but what I want to get at here is simply this: DO NOT OVERLOOK THE SERIOUSNESS OF THE MATTER.

What we process with our eyes greatly effects our entire being.  What we allow to penetrate our hearts then has the temptation of turning outward.  And that’s why someone who started looking at porn, not only can’t stop, but also finds themselves suddenly objectifying all women, losing all respect for their wife, and going down a slippery slope where they suddenly don’t care anymore.  And that’s why exposing children to improper materials which they aren’t able to process at their young age can greatly impact their mood, cause sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, and anger issues.   I’m not saying this will always be the case, but it does put your child at risk, and anything that puts a child at risk must be avoided as much as possible.

So how can we better regulate what our children are watching and what goes into their eyes (and consequently their mind and heart)?  Here are a few suggestions:

#1: Do not allow personal handheld devices until a suitable age and even then use proper safeguarding websites and filters.

In an age where toddlers hold tablets, I know this will not come off as that popular, but it’s imperative that you know what your children are accessing.  Children are at the greatest risk of being manipulated, exploited, and taken advantage of, especially because kids born in GenZ (and to a large degree even people from my generation – the Millenials) grew up posting every single thing on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Many kids misunderstand the true meaning of the word “friend” and may share private information with someone who really doesn’t need to know.  Especially with the growing popularity of apps like SnapChat or even image texting, it can be difficult to control exactly what gets sent around and teens in the heart of the moment can send inappropriate pictures or comments they might later come to regret.

That’s why even though your kids are going to beg you for more freedom, you NEED to check on them often.  You NEED to limit their access to smartphones and other technology, and you NEED to demand to see their history especially if they are hiding anything from you.

When I was a kid, we only had one desktop in the house and it was in a public location so that my parents could walk by at any time and see what we kids were up to.  Nowadays, that’s no longer the norm, but it’s still important in principle.

Don’t get me wrong, technology has so many benefits and I think it’s wonderful to think about the things my kids will have access to that I never did before.  But it also comes at a cost.  We need to be vigilant in teaching our kids that cyberspace is a real place with real dangers.  Just like you need to teach a toddler to look both ways before crossing a street, you also need to gently ease your child into their use of technology and only allow more freedom once they have proven they know how to use it.

If you still don’t see the value in what I’m saying, hear this: the average boy stumbles upon pornography between the ages of 8-12.  I have male friends who have admitted these struggles to me, and they always say that for them, it didn’t start off with the hot chick, but rather with something as innocent as a car ad.  They were hooked on a certain car (what boy wouldn’t be) and that car just happened to come with a cute model.  Before they knew it, the car was becoming of less value to them, and their eyes were more and more fixated on the girl.  We like to think of our children as innocent and I deeply believe no elementary aged kid would stumble upon this filth on purpose, but we need to understand that it’s out there and take every precaution to protect them and to guard what is sacred, pure, and holy.

#2: Watch Movies with Your Kids

When I was a youngster, my dad used to come downstairs and watch movies and tv shows with my brother and I.  Young kids don’t mind this at all, in fact, most young children relish in having their parent’s attention.  You can make it a special bonding time to watch Treehouse or Frozen with your kid, maybe even hosting a Friday night pizza and movie evening or providing a special treat like popcorn, chips, or Freezies.

Watching movies and TV shows together is a wonderful family activity on a number of levels.  Firstly, it shows your children that you are invested in learning more about their interests and their favourite shows.  Secondly, it helps you keep your guard as you properly monitor what exactly is going through their eyes (and if you see questionable material, you are able to pull the plug right away).  Lastly, it provides a portal for dialogue.  Many children’s movies teach a moral or a lesson and you might be able to expand upon this further.  If there were any scenes that might have frightened your child, you’ll be able to explain them or at least understand if your child gets scared later in the night and comes crawling to your bed.  And in a worse-case scenario where you did have to pull the plug, you can explain why and help your child realize that certain scenes or images might actually compromise the Christian faith you are trying to instill in them.

Of course, your child will naturally gravitate to favourite shows or want to watch the same movie multiple times.  Once you’ve seen the show on a few occasions and are fairly confident that there is no questionable material, you should feel free to allow your child to keep watching at their leisure.  You don’t need to constantly be glued to The Wiggles.  Nevertheless, it might still be a good idea to remain within earshot or periodically pop in with pop, juice, or snacks just to check in and make sure things continue to run smoothly.

HINT: If you are thinking of hosting a regular movie night or if your kid wants to see a new movie in theatres that you aren’t sure about, a good place to look is www.pluggedinonline.com.  This is an incredible Christian website that rates movies based on language, graphics, violence, and other points of interest.  And while no movie is perfect, this will definitely give you a good starting point.  Another good resource could be talking to other parents or a children’s pastor.  Those of us who work with kids (especially in church settings) always have to be up on the latest movies and shows to make our ministries more relevant, so we likely may know a thing or two as well!

#3: Listen to What You Hear Your Child Saying

Kids love to repeat things they hear on television or from you and in some cases, may completely misinterpret it.  Listen carefully to what your son or daughter says.  If they are using bad language around the house, sexual innuendoes, or even seemingly innocent comments like “oh my gosh, he’s so hot” ask yourself where they might have heard this from.  Is it from a TV show they are watching, from school, or from a show that you might watch?  Remember, kids often aren’t able to differentiate between “adult humour” they shouldn’t watch and what they should.  And even though kids might get bored easily of MASH or The Real House Wives of Toronto, if they are exposed to it via you, it may still come out.

Perhaps the most difficult phrase to monitor is “oh my God.”  Kids are so easily exposed to this phrase because according to the world it’s just another expression that means nothing.  However, if you are trying to raise Godly children it is important to teach them that God’s Name is Holy not merely another off-handed comment.  When you hear this phrase on TV explain that we don’t say stuff like that around our house.

Lastly, shows like Power Rangers, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Pokemon, Digimon, Sailor Moon, Sabrina and the like which were so popular in my day (but are now making a comeback) are truly a matter of personal discretion and preference.  You may choose to allow your kids to watch these shows, or you may be like my parents and disallow it completely.  These shows are not “wrong” in and of themselves, but some care must be given as many of them have subthemes of magic, sorcery, or evolution that may conflict with your Christian values and mission.  If you do decide to allow your kids access to these types of shows, it may be well worth your time and investment to at least watch a few episodes with them and allow for some discussion time together.

Conclusion

We don’t have to fear the TV, throw it out of the house, or get rid of every tablet we own, but we definitely do need to be vigilant and proactive about what is being processed through our children’s eyes.  Christian parents have an important role to play in permitting only what is “good, noble, honest, pure trustworthy, and of good repute” and a great way to start is by monitoring and only permitting access to certain types of shows and media.  Once we do this, we will be able to “shine like stars amidst a perverse and wicked generation” in which we live as lights of Christ for this world by how we reflect Him to others.

 

 

My Friend the Muslim

christian-muslim-friend-2

This article first appeared in the print version of the March 2017 edition of “Premier Magazine” and also on their online database: https://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2017/March-2017/Becoming-best-friends-with-a-Muslim-demolished-my-prejudices-about-Islam 

I recently had the incredible privilege of being commissioned to write an article for the Premier Magazine out of the London, UK on Muslim-Christian relations.  This is a powerfully meaningful experience for me not only because I have personal ties with the UK (having lived in a year in Scotland and thus acquiring many good friends), but also because I was specifically asked to write about my friendship with an amazing young woman named, Karima.  Karima is the type of person that everyone would love to be friends with.  She is bubbly, funny, and out-going, always ready for an adventure.  But she is also deeply thoughtful and thought-provoking.  She gives all that she has to better this world for so many people and has taught me that doing small things with great love doesn’t just stem from our religious upbringing, but from the very fact that we are human.  There is so much I could say about Karima who was willing enough that I write this article about her, but why not just read the article itself to get a better picture of this fantastic woman who has taught me not only what being a Muslim is like, but how deep an inter-religious friendship can truly go if only we open our hearts and minds long enough to the possibility. 

Just a few weeks ago, President Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States of America.  Given that the US is one of the major superpowers of the Western World, this means that his decisions and actions greatly affect many of us on a global scale.  One example of this would be Trump’s recent ban of Muslim immigrants.  His attitude is symbolic of many in North America who have a skewed worldview of all that Islam entails because of extremist groups like ISIS.  Many individuals around the globe have engaged in so-called anti-terrorist measures which look strangely like Islamaphobia under the guise of ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of the citizens of their country.  In a way, I can completely understand this.  It is difficult to form a personal connection with this sometimes “strange” religion when you don’t know anyone from this particular group.  It is easy to give into media pressure and stereotypes when you don’t have a face to connect with a name.  However, I once made a Muslim friend and she has turned any fear or suspicion I currently had into a beautiful life-giving friendship.  The account below retells this very story:

The clock struck midnight at the group home where I was a live-in caregiver, and believe it or not, I was down in the basement doing my nightly prayers.  Of all the things I could be asking the Almighty for, I was praying for a friend and I had a very specific idea in my mind of what that friend would be like.  I wanted someone I could talk to about deep matters and things that really made a difference.  Casual coffee buddies are great, but I was hoping for some profound intellectual discussion.  Meanwhile, upstairs I heard some rattling around.  There was a relief support worker filling in because one of our clients was not feeling well.  I was curious, “who was this person and what was she all about?”  I quickly said “Amen” and ran up the stairs to greet her.  Standing right in front of me was this tan-skinned Indian woman with a bright smile.  Instantly I recognized her from a few months back when we had been paired up at a staff retreat.  We had gotten along well right from the start, but then never seen each other again.  Suddenly, this same woman was in my kitchen making herself a sandwich.

“Oh hey, Deborah!” Karima enthusiastically greeted me.  We made our obligatory small talk, before Karima jumped right in with a few specific questions about my religious affiliation.  I unashamedly told her I was a Christian and studying to be a religious minister.  At this Karima’s eyes lit right up.  “Oh, wow!  So cool!  I would totally come to your church and hear a sermon if you were ever preaching one!”  I felt honoured, but realized, I also hardly knew anything about this young woman who was paying me such high compliments.

“And what about you?” I asked.  “Do you attend a worship service anywhere?”

“Actually, I’m a Muslim.”  She cheerfully responded back.  “And yes, I go to the Mosque and participate in a Muslim youth choir.”

I quickly glanced at her, trying to mask my curiosity.  After all, didn’t all Muslim women wear the hijab?

“Oh wow.  I’ve never actually had much of a discussion with a Muslim before.”  I finally responded, at a loss of what else to say.

“Don’t worry” she replied.  “I also don’t know many people studying to be pastors.”

That was the end of our brief conversation.  We sat ourselves down in front of a large bowl of ice cream (which we later discovered was our shared guilty pleasure) and indulged while talking about the weather, politics, and our favourite sports teams.

A few days later, Karima was back at our house again.  This time armed with even more questions.  As the days went on, we began to open up and talk about everything, but there was a topic that kept resurfacing – religion.  Although this is such a difficult topic for many, it was one we were never afraid to touch or dissect.

Eventually, some of the other staff members and I decided to form a Bible Study group.  Karima surprised us all when she poignantly asked “may I join?”  I was shocked.  I thought only Christians joined groups like that, but Karima taught me that isn’t necessarily the case.  She came regularly, engaged in the Scriptures, asked questions, and wrestled with the texts alongside the rest of us.  Finally, she boldly announced, “you know, this group is great, but what would make it even more exciting would be to have a Holy Book study.”  And that spawned a whole list of other questions concerning our shared characters of Adam, Moses, Noah, Jesus, and Mary and their role in both the Qur’an and the Bible.

Eventually, my co-worker and I started talking quite a bit about our involvement in our local churches.  I finally was asked to preach at one, and Karima surprised me by saying “I’m definitely coming!”  She showed up at a few young adult’s gatherings and spoke of how much she enjoyed the discussions and hearing everyone’s own interpretations and what the words were saying to them.  Then one day, I brought home a book from church on Muslim and Christian dialogue and she instantly picked it up, leafed through it, and said she would love to discuss all these points further with me.

As our friendship has grown over the years, so has our faith.  One of the biggest blessings to me is that we both went into the friendship with an unspoken agreement that we were not out to “convert” the other person.  At first, this provided some tension for many, myself included, think the Christian faith is about evangelizing and making disciples.  It’s about convincing others of their need to follow a Saviour and trying to prove that Jesus is the only One who can fit that title.  But as the weeks progressed, I began to see it as so much more.  I began to wrestle with my own questions, fears, and doubts.  I would bring them to Karima and she would bring me hers.  We’d talk about the wonderful things we love in our religion, and the things that cause division and hurt.  We’d talk about how our religion has potential to do so much good and yet how unfortunately some people take it to the extreme and it doesn’t end up portraying the real love and service that are at the heart of what we both believe.  I’ve always loved that I can be myself with Karima and that whenever we are together, we have a shared understanding that although we are so different, we can still have a firm foundation built on trust and mutual respect.

But it hasn’t always been easy.  In every religion there are “touchy” subjects and massive differences of opinion.  It can be hard to explain to someone who doesn’t share your core convictions what you believe and why.  It can be confusing to navigate a cross-cultural and cross-religious experience and I have had to learn, sometimes slowly and painfully, not to make any assumptions.  One example is when I asked Karima if she would like to attend a Christmas party with me.  “Sure, I love Christmas!”  She replied, to which, once again, I was slightly puzzled.  So, we got into my car, drove about 2 hours outside the city, and went to a Christian camp where they were having a banquet dinner.  They served ham, which in Canada is a quite popular dish.  I discretely asked my friend if there was another alternative and without any hesitation she produced a plate of chicken. So that was one problem solved.  But then, there was the message which was highly evangelical.  The whole time I was sitting on my hands thinking “oh man, what did I get myself into?”  I want Karima to feel safe and valued with me.  I was not out there to try to convert her or change her views and yet, that could easily have been interpreted as what was happening here.

Well, the service ended, we sang some songs, and then we got back into my car and drove home.  “So that was a very nice evening.”  Karima concluded before I even had the courage to open my mouth and ask her about it.  “I loved that young girl’s sharing about her faith.  That was really touching.”  I was waiting for the “BUT.”  It never came.  Instead Karima said, “You know I do have some questions.”  Here I braced myself unsure of what was coming next or even if I was prepared to answer.  She asked me some completely obscure question about the evening that I have since forgotten, but it certainly wasn’t anything about Jesus.  Thinking I was safe, she then followed it by saying, “You know, this evening has made me quite curious.  I now want to read the Qur’an and find out what exactly Muslims believe about Jesus.”  That was over two years ago.  We haven’t talked much about that Christmas party since, but we most certainly have talked about who Jesus is, what He is about, why He came to earth, and why He had to die.

Having a Muslim friend has truly taught me so much.  It’s taught me to appreciate the beauty in the vast diversity we see in Western Culture. It’s taught me not to stereotype, and it’s ultimately taught me that we have more similarities than differences.  Being with someone of a different religion in such a close-knit friendship has enabled me to see the world around me and my own faith in a fresh new way.  It’s helped me articulate more of what I believe and ultimately enabled me to be a better Christian.  When I first met Karima, I just assumed that someone of a different religion didn’t care about mine, but I’ve learned that’s not the case – sometimes our best conversations happen with those who are profoundly different than we are and yet at the centre – the exact same.

You may be wondering now, how does my evangelistic understanding fit into a cross-religious friendship?  Well, I certainly still believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation and today, as a children’s pastor, I teach my kids to tell all their friends about God’s love.  Having a Muslim friend does not make me feel any differently about reaching the world for God’s glory, but it has changed my approach on how I do this.  Whereas, previously I may have engaged in the stereotypical “Southern Baptist fire-and-brimstone message” I now seek to share my passion from Scripture through my words and actions.  I want my lifestyle to reflect a Gospel of peace and love, and nowhere do I feel more energized doing this than when I am sitting on the back porch with a can of soda in hand, talking to a close Muslim friend.  Because to me, the Gospel no longer embodies a rigid, straight-cut way to live, but rather an all-encompassing ideal that accepts everyone regardless of their background.  I pray for Karima daily.  I hope that she accomplishes all that she sets out to do.  I hope that her life will also be a witness to many about the transformation inner-peace and assurance can bring to one’s soul.  I hope she never loses her curiosity or gets lost in her quest to question religion and what makes it so valuable for so many.  But I also have learned to live in this dance – this inclusive embrace where friendship is more valued than simply being right.

In 2014, I made a very close non-Christian friend.  A beautiful Muslim woman, deeply spiritual, and full of compassion for others.  We spent our days eating snacks, discussing our religions, and debating some of the intense happenings in our world.  Even though most of my other friends were Christian, there was something special and unique about this young woman.  Her vigour and passion for life, topped with her desire to love and serve others, instantly directed me to some of the deepest longings of her heart.  This woman has a name and she has a title.  Her name is Karima and I am honoured to call her my best friend.

This article was published in the March edition of Premier Magazine, London, UK.  It is an adapted and extended version of a previous blog “5 Things Having a Muslim friend taught me” which you can access here: http://www.stateofformation.org/2015/05/5-things-having-a-muslim-friend-taught-me/

 

I’m a Millennial and I Still Go To Church… Let Me Tell You Why

Millennials.jpg  This past week, I shared on Facebook a number of articles I read on why Millennials have left the church and although I am still in the church (in fact, working in a paid position at a church), I really resonated with a lot of what was shared.  Even though the articles all took a slightly different spin, at the foundation, the reasons were the same.  Young adults felt cheated out of this monstrous religious institution, they felt it was a farce and inauthentic, they desired to see the church put its hands where its mouth and money were, and they resented the fact that organized religion didn’t know how to properly handle or discuss hot-button topics.

All of these are valid points.  Whether we’re talking about a person with Down Syndrome who was never fully included in worship opportunities despite the church boasting a huge sign reading “all are welcomed”, a woman who conceived a child out of wedlock and became a social outcast even though the pastor preached every Sunday about “loving others”, or a high school graduate who never did feel part of the church, but only part of programs, it’s fair to say that the church has let a lot of people down.  The church, as an institution, has failed to properly show love and support to single young adults.  The church has failed to know how to address the inevitable questions of gender and identity that are constantly before us, and the church has neglected to see abused, battered, and assaulted people as PEOPLE rather than as statistics or “projects” that need to be worked on.  The church has not always been good at engaging with those who share opposing beliefs or worldviews, seeking harmonious relations with those who suffer from mental illness, or helping people to really wrestle with their disappointments and frustrations rather than writing them off with Christian clichés.  And for that, I apologize on behalf of the church and I am grieved that we, as Christians, have not lived up to the fullest potential of being the people Christ has called us to be.

Nevertheless, although these articles all present invaluable information which should be heavily considered, I feel it would be grossly unfair to only rely on them.  So what I would like to offer you today, is a different story.  The story of why I, a 20something Millennial remain in the church even despite its many imperfections.

#1: I remain in the church because I have had a personal encounter with Christ, not just with religion.

A common phrase you hear amongst people in my age bracket is “I love Jesus, but not the church.”  People feel like it’s possible to be “spiritual but not religious,” to enjoy ethereal moments without a hint of commitment to a certain worldview.  However, this viewpoint is not only erroneous, but it actually makes no logical sense.  The Bible describes the church as being God’s bride, she is decked out with jewels and wearing a lovely silver tiara, and yet, we feel like on her wedding day we can compare her clothing choices to rags and refuse to stand to pay her honour.  This is the equivalent of telling my brother, “Hey bro, I love you, but I hate your wife.”  (Don’t worry, I would never actually think much less say that).  I’m sure there are people out there who have this type of relationship with their siblings, but it’s definitely not ideal.  When your sibling gets married, the spouse and her family come as a packaged deal.  She may be imperfect, but because you love your brother and because your brother loves her, in turn, she is part of your family and part of your life.

I believe a large reason millenials leave the church is because they were never truly taught how to love Christ, let alone His bride.  Many people think they grew up on Jesus, when in fact, what they sadly grew up on was useless controversies, endless genealogies, legalism, and rigidity.  These same young adults never formed a personal connection with Christ.  They may have thought they did – they may have made a confession with their mouth in Sunday school or even been baptized, but in reality, what many of them had was an emotional bond with a certain teacher, a liking for a specific pastor, or the enjoyment of a certain club or activity.

There are, of course, exceptions.  There are many stories of one sibling embracing the Gospel while the other goes a different path despite the fact that both had the same upbringing.  There are sincere people who embraced the Gospel, but just like the parable of the sower fell upon hard times and had no roots.  These people truly believed they were saved (and perhaps were), but the church failed them by watering the petals rather than cultivating roots.

Sadly, this is a trend we continue to see today especially in “seeker sensitive” churches.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to market your church so that non-Christians want to attend, in fact, that’s a great evangelical opportunity and strategy; however, we must be cautious that in our desire to embrace newcomers, we don’t neglect the spiritual needs of those who are already there.  More than anything, there are two key things that people crave today: truth and relationships.  If a church can cultivate both of those rather than simply pouring endless resources into “flashy” appearances, it will go a long way.  We often think that people are drawn to the latest hype: an engaging pastor, strobe lights, acrobats, and jugglers, but while those things help (and are certainly not bad in and of themselves) anyone who has stuck around church for more than one session will tell you it all comes down to the HEART.  People crave that personal connection – knowing that someone cares and is deeply involved in their lives – not just that this is another avenue for after-dinner entertainment.

#2: I remain in the church because even though the church is imperfect, I realize that I also am imperfect and yet God can (and does) use both the organization and myself to reach out and help others.

The Millenial generation is often typified by their overwhelming sense of entitlement and consumerism.  Please don’t misunderstand me, I know that Millenials also are doing far more than many people give them credit for.  For example, we are perhaps the generation with the greatest communal investment in the environment, global affairs, and social justice endeavours.  We are a generation characterized by deep-seated passion, advocacy, and a keen sense of fairness and these are all things that we can use to our advantage to make a better world.  Nevertheless, our downfall is in thinking that because we are so involved and give so much of our time and efforts the world somehow “owes” us something and so does the church.  We think that because we are consumed by a certain cause, the church should be also, and thus, we use the church as a key place to pedal and solicit attention and funding to our “pet projects.”  And when the church fails to get on board with whatever we think is the single greatest service opportunity, we somehow feel failed and resent the church for being a bunch of hypocrites who speak about God’s love without loving others or who proclaim the need to serve when we perceive they are idly watching from the sidelines.

I would like to suggest that this is not at all the reason we attend church.   The Biblical understanding of church is a place that meets to honour and glorify God.  It’s an opportunity to give God worth and ultimately seeks to be an hour or two that takes the attention off us and places it on God.  Everything we do – whether it’s a chili cook-off, an Alpha course, or a worship sesh needs to loudly proclaim the splendor of His majesty and glory.  Yet, too often, by pushing our own political or social agendas onto worship that gets lost.

There is definitely something to be said about the value of helping others realize how important the environment is for worship.  There is a place for rallying together for women’s rights or ending poverty and a church that is truly glorifying the Father must also have a budget for outside global missions and local projects.  However, this is not the foremost responsibility of the church.  At the very crux of organized worship is simply that – worship.  And when Millenials forget that, they are quick to complain about all these little things that truly are inconsequential in the end of the day all the while mocking the elderly people who they perceive as getting defensive over things that don’t really matter.

#3: I remain in the church because I believe things won’t get better by just complaining, we have to actually get out there and make them better.

 I know, I’ve heard the old “I tried to tell them, but no one would listen” approach before.  20somethings often feel like the church is not interested in their opinion and so they don’t go.  Yet, although this may be true in some cases, I feel like it is often used as nothing more than a “cop-out.”  Why do I say that?  Because usually the people who have dropped off are those who never bothered going back to church once their parents no longer forced them, many of them have never served a term on a church council, and many of them have never actually ASKED their church if they could be involved.

Those of us who are heavily involved in church have our disappointments and frustrations for sure.  Like I said earlier, we are a generation made up of passionate minds.  We also tend to be “go-getters” if not a little hyperactive and because we grew up in a “three-minute” (which has since turned to a “thirty-second”) culture we are used to getting what we want almost immediately.  So when things take time we can easily grow bored.  Many of us haven’t learned the art of delayed gratification.  We don’t realize that church is like a pot of slow-cooked stew.  Instead, we open up the slow-cooker every other minute, letting the heat escape, and then wondering why decisions are taking even longer than we think they should.

However, the difference is, that someone who actually has served a term as a church chair usually has a much broader understanding of the inner workings of the church itself.  Don’t get me wrong, I often wish we didn’t have to go through so many hoops and red-tape.  And while I understand the increased need for caution and protection from a legal point of view, I also believe it has its downfalls because less people will volunteer when volunteering gets more and more complicated.

However, I would like to submit that the reason we attend church is not just for US.  Church is a community and community is made up of a number of imperfect people.  Everyone needs to know that their opinion is being valued and considered and this takes time.  It’s easy for us to think that people should just go with whatever we have in mind, but we really need to take the older people into consideration.  They’ve generally been around longer and know the church much better than we do (even if we grew up in that church) and there is something we can gain from their wisdom because what might seem like a frustrating NO at first, might actually turn out to save us from a heap of embarrassment by avoiding doing something that’s been tried before that didn’t work that time either.

When Millenials understand this crucial juncture it helps us all to appreciate the older generation that much more.  Instead of complaining that the church isn’t filling OUR needs, we ask how it is filling the needs of others around us.  We want the church to not only take care of 20somethings, but 60somethings, 80somethings and even 100somethings.
Conclusion: I am an imperfect person who grew up in an imperfect Christian family attending an imperfect church.  I’ve made my rounds.  I’ve attended Baptists, Pentecostal, Mennonite, and Free Methodist churches.  I’ve gone to school to learn how to make the church better and tried to implement some of those ideas into my teaching, leading, and children’s ministry.  But ultimately what I’ve learned through it all is that even though the church will never be a “spittin-image” of what I’ve had in mind, that doesn’t mean God isn’t using it right now in incredible ways.  For me, success has become less about approaching the buffet table and picking and choosing whatever I want and then complaining that calamari wasn’t served and more about having a nutritious home-cooked meal.  It’s less about getting involved in the latest fads and trends and more about getting involved in truthful authentic relationships.  I’m not justifying the many ways organized church has failed our generation, but I’m also not excusing millennial scapegoats that point to nothing more than consumerism, entitlement and a materialistic mindset.  My hope is that we, as 20somethings will begin to see the vital role we play in the life of the church and thus to encourage others to also take hold of it.

 

Beyond Sunday School – Fostering Faith at Home

sunday_5908c   When I was interning at a local Pentecostal Church, we used to have little hand-outs to give to parents as their children were leaving the Sunday school class.  These hand-outs briefly identified the main themes in that week’s lesson and some ways to continue to build the conversation at home.  Yet week after week, faithful church attenders would turn us down.  They would simply say “no, thanks,” “I’m not interested” or hand us back the sheet once they read it and saw what it was about. There were likely other parents who took the forms out of courtesy, but then left them somewhere on a messy table and forgot all about them until next week.  I do not fault those parents nor do I think they lack the necessary skills to encourage their kids in their faith (who knows, maybe they are engaging with them in other ways), yet since then, it has made me curious about why more parents don’t think instilling Christian values is important in a child’s daily regime.

Nurturing and building Christian foundations is paramount for being able to create a long-lasting successful spiritual walk once the child hits adulthood.  Yet too many parents fail to see the importance of fostering these building blocks at home and instead relegate them to an hour on a Sunday morning making Christian education the sole responsibility of a dedicated Sunday school teacher or a trained children’s pastor.  And while I do value my role in children’s ministry and believe it is of utmost importance, I want to let you all in on a little secret – I can’t do it with my team alone.  And I definitely can’t do it just as one person even if I do have two theological degrees with a third on the way.

Here’s why: let me explain an average children’s event for you.  On a Tuesday evening approximately 30 kids, wild, excited, and full of energy walk into the basement of our church.  They are a lively bunch, inquisitive, and eager to learn – yet they are still kids.  And because they are kids, it takes them a minute or two or sometimes ten to be able to calm down.  And once they do calm down, their attention span lasts approximately 15 minutes and then we have to move on to the next thing.  In this group of kids, we have a mixed bag.  Some kids are being properly nourished at home (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) and others are in the midst of a painful home life.  Some of the kids grew up in church and others are just hearing about Jonah and the Whale or Noah’s Ark for the first time.  Some kids have already committed their lives to Jesus and others aren’t even really sure who Jesus is.  And then there’s the age range, the different learning styles, preferences, and personalities each person brings to the group, and the different attitudes parents have as their drop their children off.  And my goal (along with my wonderful team) is to find a way to reach each one of them.  To find a way to challenge the church kids and encourage the un-churched kids.  To find a level playing ground and a story that can relate to 5 year olds and 10 years old without the little ones being lost and the older ones feeling like they are being talked down to or ignored.  We run through the evening.  We start with a catchy song or two, move on to a craft, do a game, and tell a Bible story.  But when you factor in the movement time, getting kids quiet enough to listen, troubleshooting what to do about the fact that half the glue sticks you just bought yesterday no longer work, and wiping up juice spills, I’d say that in an hour long program I really only have 10 minutes maximum to instill any Godly wisdom into your kid.  And while there definitely is something to be said about the ministry of presence and reaching out to kids through fun, the fact is that 10 minutes really is not all that long if that’s the only spiritual instruction they will be getting all week.

But let’s say you not only drop your kid off at a midweek program, but you also have them in Sunday school while you are upstairs listening to a sermon.  That’s great, but the average Sunday school still only has about 20-30 minutes MAXIMUM of religious instruction for your kids.  Which means if the mid-week program and Sunday school are the only opportunities they have to hear the Word of God, we are still averaging less than one hour a week.  And when you think about all the other voices that are contending with the Gospel (be they advertisements, schooling, media, or friends) one hour a week is definitely not enough time to undue any negative belief structures imposed on your child’s young and impressionable mind.  This means, that the primary task of raising Godly children must belong to you – the parent, not left for a Sunday school teacher to pick up the pieces.

I’m assuming you’re a good parent.  I’m assuming you want what’s best for your child and would go to any length to ensure their health and well-being because you love them.  I’m assuming you make sure your kids have three square meals a day and that they are eating their fruits and veggies not just candy and chips.  I’m assuming you want them to play outside in order to get fresh air and exercise and I’m assuming you take an interest in who their friends are because you want them to hang out with the right crowd.  If you do all of these things to ensure your child’s physical well-being, then why should their spiritual state matter any less to you (after all, that is the only enduring and eternal thing?) You might bring your kid to a restaurant once in a while as a special treat or to celebrate a big occasion, but I’m guessing, most of the time, you nourish them with a nice home-cooked and balanced meal.  But you see, only relying on a mid-week program and Sunday school to feed your kid’s soul is the equivalent of trusting the local Montana’s or Swiss Chalet with all your child’s dietary needs.  These places are great when visited sparingly and everyone likes having someone else wash up the dishes, but going too often will make such times lose their specialness and depending upon them will likely make your kid discontent when one day you are in a rush and have to give him a peanut butter sandwich instead of chicken wings.

So, if you’re reading this and are convinced that you play a pivotal role in your child’s spiritual development, but are unsure where to being, let me give you some easy suggestions.  You see, you don’t have to be a theologian or even invest an hour a day to make a lasting spiritual impact in your kid’s life.  In fact, even if you only dedicate 15-20 minutes a day, you can help show your child what is truly important in life.

#1: The Long Ride Home

If you are like most church-goers, I’m sure there are things you don’t like about your home church.  Yet, I would encourage not to complain about them in front of your child.  Perhaps you can discuss them when the kids are asleep or when the grandparents are babysitting, but your kids look up to you and if they see you criticizing the pastor or the church, they are most often going to do likewise.  So during the ride home, ask the kids about Sunday school and what they learned or even tell them something interesting from the “grown-up” church if they ask, but refrain from critiquing the sermon or mentioning that anything was “boring” or “a waste of time.” Most kids are too young to understand complex theological concepts, so don’t get into a debate with your spouse about all the things the pastor said that might be wrong, but instead focus on what was shared that you really resonated with.

#2: Teaching Kids to Pray

Fun prayers with silly actions have their place – at a church camp, but at some point, kids also need to learn how to REALLY pray.  It is easy to give into the temptation to do a rote prayer such as “God is great and God is good, let us thank Him for our food, Amen” and there is an argument that they engage kids by their simplicity and being easy to remember, but I urge you not to let that be the sole extent of teaching your kids to talk to God.  Instead, find different ways to help your kid pray.  Don’t correct a child’s prayer (unless they are being incredibly silly) and when you pray demonstrate a prayerful and thoughtful posture because kids will pick up on genuineness.  Don’t allow silliness or jostling during prayer and don’t rush through it if the kids are getting restless.  Instead, teach the kids that praying is the most important activity of all.

TIP:
Because kids pick up on authenticity, it is important to be consistent in your prayer life.  This means that even if you go out to eat at a restaurant, you need to keep your prayer posture.  Don’t look around to see who is listening in or noticing because your kids will pick that up and make a connection that prayer is “uncool.”  Follow the same procedures regardless of where you might be.

#3: Find your child’s natural interests and run with them

Use your child’s natural talents and interests as a gateway to talk about Godly things with them.  If they are artistically inclined, what a great opportunity to discuss how God is a wonderful artists who paints sunsets and sunrises.  If they love playing with Lego, use it to illustrate how God is the Master Designer.  If they are athletic and enjoy team games talk about how God created our bodies to run and jump.  If they are naturally extroverted share how God is the expert relationship builder and formed us for community.  And if they are more introverted share about how they can begin to hear God in the silence.  There are so many ways to bring out spiritual conversations in day-to-day life and to be honest, not all of them require a Bible.

#4: Comfort Your Child Using Biblical Truths

When your kid is struggling with insecurities, and they most definitely will, instill in them that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that God knows and sees them for who they are and takes pride and delight in them.  In fact, the Bible tells us that God rejoices over them with singing and jubilation.  If they come back after having lost a game or feeling like a failure, remind them that God sees our hearts and motivation and is just thankful that we tried to do the right thing and gave it our all.  And if their friends abandon them or leave them out, help them to find comfort in the fact that even Jesus’s closest friends forgot about Him when He needed them the most, but that God’s Word promises that He will never leave us or forsake us.

#5: NEVER Use Godly Activities as Punishment

 This may almost seem like a no-brainer to you, but you’d be surprised at the many times I have seen parents use the Bible or Christian activities as a means of punishment and discipline.  Two of the most common examples of this would be making your child repetitively write out a Scripture verse speaking about why what they did was wrong and revoking their opportunity to go to a club they enjoy.  It seems almost natural that when you have tried everything to get a child to stop their behaviour and they refuse, you revoke an activity they wish to be part of.  And oftentimes, because church is free and other classes might not be, church seems the logical one to get rid of.  However, I believe this may very well be the most spiritually destructive thing you can do to your kid.

Here’s why:

Church is already seen as being an “uncool” activity.  Our culture already pressures kids and teens to think that belief in God is ludicrous and childish.  Kids are already at a great risk of eventually losing their faith and statistically we have seen more and more kids drop out of church once they reach university age (if not before).  Therefore, we must do everything in our power to encourage church attendance and help our kids view it as a positive choice rather than as a negative one.  If you want to make a point and take away a privilege, take away the TV, the internet, their IPhone, or their time with friends…ANYTHING, except your mid-week Bible club.  And if you want your kids to write lines, than do the stereotypical “I will not tell lies” and resist taking Bible verses out of context.  This will help your kids know that you are serious but also help them realize that skipping church is not an option in your books.

CONCLUSION: Raising your children to be spiritual leaders is not an easy tasks and some days you might be tempted to compromise because you feel tired and worn-out, but I urge you not to.  It is during those very times when you want to quit, that you may actually be having the greatest spiritual impact in your child’s life.  Your kids look up to you.  They need to see how much of a priority the Gospel is to you in order for them to begin to apply it to their lives.  You wouldn’t skip feeding your kids dinner just because you were overwhelmed, so don’t skip out sharing Biblical truths with them either.

When I was a child I did not have regular “devotional” times with my family.  Not that there would be anything wrong with that, but we were not huddled around a Bible reading the book of John and deconstructing it.   But today I still have a strong faith and belief in God, attend church every Sunday and am even a pastor.  Why?  Because even though we didn’t have these formal times, my parents were instilling Biblical truths into me informally at every opportunity they could.  That’s why as an adult, I can still have meaningful and deep spiritual conversations with them and refer to them as my “favourite lay theologians.”

Almost every child sees their parents as their greatest heroes.  So use that opportunity rather than taking advantage of it.  At every juncture, find a way to share your faith with your child even if it’s as simple as going for a walk in the park, watching a sunset together, or packing an Operation Christmas Child shoebox.  The more opportunities you have to develop faith at home, the more well-rounded your child’s understanding of God will be and the more likelihood that they will develop into a strong Christian leader of their own home one day.  May God bless you on your journey of fostering and creating these deep spiritual links with the very people you love the most – your own kids and your own family.

The Five Greatest Enemies of Church Growth and How We Can Conquer Them

courageous-leadership-is-required-to-grow-a-church-the-growing-church   In my last article “To Make a Church Grow” I discussed various ways to evaluate church growth and likewise recognize symptoms of disease and dissonance. I then gave some practical resources for how to manage a church in distress and how to rebuild a dying vision. You can find that article here.

Now, I would like to tell you about some very specific monsters that can destroy a church regardless of how strong it originally was.

PLEASE NOTE: Like I mentioned in my last article, SIZE is not the only issue when determining whether a church is dying or thriving. Yes, in many cases a “growing church” will be having more adherents whereas a “dying church” likely will have more people leaving than coming in. That being said, there are many, many small churches with less than 50 members but where congregants are faithful and give financially and of their time. These small churches may take care of one another in some pretty incredible ways following the Biblical injunction of “loving one another deeply.” Conversely, there are some megachurches that while boasting over 5,000 members are very weak theologically and in terms of their commitment to each other. In these churches a pastor may seldom be seen and rarely heard from. Individuals may attend for a sense of “hype” but actually receive very little spiritual nourishment. It is for this reason that I would like to define a GROWING church as one that has potential to reach out to many and is giving adequate resources and support to its congregants; whereas a DYING church is one incredibly inward focussed without making an effort to connect to its members on a personal level or to the community on a wider level.


#1: Pride/Ego

The number one enemy to stunt church growth is pride and ego. And, when you really think about it, this is the same issue that permeates into the other 4 areas mentioned in this blog. Pride is deceptive and can take on many forms. Some potential roadblocks may include:

* A pastor who feels a need to do “everything” without handing over some of that leadership to lay people.                      

* A pastor who feels a deep need to be a “people-pleaser” and is not able to say no or make hard decisions for fear of how it may affect others.


* A pastor who always needs to be “in control” and is over-powering in church meetings and other forums without properly listening and trying to understand what others are saying.

And while it’s always easiest to just “blame the pastor” for a sinking ship, there are a lot of ways that we, as congregants, also contribute to this problem:

* We may be too “insular” – too focussed on what sets us apart rather than on what unifies us as whole
* We may be judgmental and quick to point out that other churches in the area “just aren’t doing it right.”
* We might be incredibly hard on our pastor(s) because we think (s)he should be “perfect” and that (s)he can never measure up to what we ideally are looking for
* We might decide that we only wish to cater to a certain group of people (ie. Those who look, think, feel, dress, smell the exact same way that we do)

When taken to the extreme, I’ve even seen whole conferences doing this. For example:

* We try to “sheep-steal” (or rely on disgruntled members of other churches) too heavily
* We decide that we are eternal “gatekeepers” (having our word be the final authority on “who’s in and who’s out” including claiming that other groups are not really “Christian”)

As long as we stay stuck in the quicksand of pride, we will never be able to move forward. In fact, depending on how long this pride goes on for, we may never be able to fully recover.

The Bible speaks repeatedly against the abuse of power and the consequences of pride. We read that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).  We also read that “Pride goes before a fall and a haughty spirit before destruction” (Proverbs 16:18) The book of Proverbs even lists PRIDE as one of the emotions that God detests the most (Proverbs 16:16-19).

At first it seems incredibly difficult to grasp. If pride is so bad, why do most churches fall prey to it? The answer is because of our ego. We wrongly assume that:

* If we don’t have a certain number of congregants every week there’s no point to keep going                                                  

* If we don’t have a certain number of programs we aren’t doing it right


* If we don’t receive praise every time we preach a sermon or put on an event, people just don’t care


* If an event didn’t go exactly as we planned (and if less people showed up) that it was a failure.

Here’s the problem with this mentality:

We are too short-sighted. We view success as competition, making the grade, and being the best. We focus on our initial feelings in the here-and-now. We don’t look for long-term consequences. We see FAILURE written in big letters, we don’t see the POTENTIAL written in the fine-print. We see people not responding to our call right now, we don’t see the seeds that are being planted and the underground work God is already doing.

And when we fail to receive instant gratification, we assume our church is DYING when in reality, this may actually be the most formative state of all.

In order for our church to grow, we must understand first and foremost that ministry is NOT a competition. It never was and it never should be. At least not if we are looking at the Biblical idea of what ministry is all about. Because in the Bible we have:

* Moses shushing Joshua, telling him that he wished everyone was out there preaching the Word


* We have John the Baptist saying that he never meant to be in the spotlight, he was just preparing the way for someone else


* We have the Apostle Paul stating that everyone has a different role (some plant, some water, but it’s always God who gives the growth)                                  

* And we have Jesus who said “quit yammering about who’s the greatest – instead be like a little child who is totally unconcerned with status and only focusses on where the next cookie is coming from.”

A church that is not competing doesn’t look like what I just describe earlier. They are not clamouring for the lime-light. Not advertising in order to be the best. Not hiring a marketing consultant just to get more people into their doors, because they know that while those things might be beneficial, they are not everything. They know that we are dealing with souls – with eternity, not just with something as trivial as numbers or a budget line.

Instead a growing church looks like this:

* The pastor is receptive to feedback. (S)he wants to know what others are saying and digs deeper to understand why they are saying it.


* When a new pastor joins a church, (s)he seeks to be a historian. (S)he wants to respect traditions that are already in place, but also wants to challenge his/her congregation to grow.                                                                                                  

  * The pastor seeks out opportunities to get others involved. They don’t fall in love with their own voice or ideas – instead they wish to draw out even the most shy and vulnerable of people and offer them a special place in the service so that they can truly feel welcomed and be their most authentic selves.

And the congregants:

* Determine to laugh, dream, share, and play together – laying theological differences aside in order to embrace true Christian unity and respect
* Recognize their own unique role, voice, and contribution in the church and seek to take “ownership” of its programs and amenities. They don’t place all the blame on the pastor. They are mature and honest enough to recognize their own short-comings as well.
* They don’t compare themselves to other churches that might be bigger, stronger, or more modern than them. They stay true to who they are and the unique role and vision that God has given to THEM at this moment, at this time, and for this location.

#2: Compromised Theology

The second greatest enemy to the church is compromised theology. What do I mean by this? Well, it should go without saying, but every church has their own unique theology. Theology is just a very fancy way of saying that:

* Every church sees God and God’s role over creation in a slightly different way, and yet we all serve the same God.


* Every church sees the role of humanity in a slightly different way, and yet, all churches are made of (imperfect) humans.

* Every church sees its own role in a slightly different way, and yet recognizes that every church has something to offer.

Simply put THEOLOGY describes a specific WORLD-VIEW. A way of seeing God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Church in a certain way that affects our behaviours and our mindset. Our behaviours (the way we choose to respond or not respond) towards certain social issues, marginalized people groups, and even ourselves and our own families reflects this theology – this worldview.

Theology is the cornerstone of our faith, so how we work with it is a pretty big deal.

A church that has compromised on its theology may look like this:

* The pastor doesn’t preach the Gospel at all. He only says whatever he thinks people want to hear.
* The pastor doesn’t call out immoral, sinful behaviour. She is laisse-faire and believes this all falls under the category of “a person’s private business.”
* The pastor doesn’t even KNOW what the Bible is saying. He may know a bit, but his sermons are whipped together at the last minute and don’t reflect adequate scholarship and research.
* The pastor preaches a “good” sermon that theologically makes a lot of sense, but her life applications are weak. She is too focussed on what the Bible itself says that she fails to teach her congregants how to really live it out.

But, like I said, let’s not just place all the blame on the pastor. There’s also the congregants to keep in mind. These individuals may:

* Be too focussed on their own personal “feelings” that they aren’t capable of thinking logically and rationally.                    

 * Be too caught up in conforming to the world, that they fail to be transformed in the renewing of their minds


* Be unwilling or unable to grow spiritually for whatever reason

What makes an otherwise solid church fall prey to this type of compromised theology?

There are a few reasons that come to mind:

* The pastor may not have been adequately shaped, formed, or trained. (S)he may have “fallen into” the role or else been forced into it when the church couldn’t find anyone else to take on the role.
* The pastor may be a recent convert himself and not have had proper mentors. He may be enthusiastic and eager, but like Paul, he needs someone to pull him aside and explain the way of truth more accurately to him.                                              

* The pastor may not fully grasp the importance of their role or how wide-reaching their influence is.
* Congregants may have been brought up in a strict family that didn’t permit asking questions. They may have been told their entire lives what to think and believe and so do not know what to do with their new-found freedom to really wrestle with Biblical texts and start thinking for themselves.
* There may not be enough movement within the church. If generations of the same people are attending with no “new blood” we risk not being introduced to new concepts, experiences, theologies, and realities.
* The church may be in competition with other churches. They may assume that because places like Saddleback or Hillsong are growing exponentially that they also need to follow that same format. They haven’t yet grasped that they are not those churches and that while those churches may be doing some pretty incredible things, God is only calling their church to be faithful with what it already has and where it already is right now.

So that’s what a church with “compromised theology” looks like. But what about a church that has good theology? A church that is truly in-line with Scripture and God’s unique calling on them will:

* Seek to be welcoming and accepting to all people, without caving into purely societal pressures


* Will seek to let “God be the judge” while also practicing discernment.                                                                                      

 * Will be gentle and peaceable while also having a firm, unshakeable foundation.

* Will not be afraid to call sin out or discuss the “difficult” questions


* Will be comfortable living into the pain and discomfort of its parishioners (especially those who have been harmed by the institutional church or organized religion)

This will be reflected in:

* The way marginalized people groups are treated


* The way children are taught

* The way sick people are prayed for (and over)


* The way outreach and evangelism is carried out


* The way sermons are preached

 * The way people are included into other activities (especially people who don’t attend that church)

Theology is very important. A recent article in the Windsor Star about “What Makes Churches Grow” By: Dan Robinet states that after being welcoming and friendly and the likability of the pastor, theology is what makes or breaks the church. Robinet writes “Growing congregations are like peaches – they’re soft on the outside and very accessible and easy to get into. But at the core, there’s a rock-solid theology. Declining churches on the other hand are like a coconut. They’re difficult to penetrate and when they do get in they find nothing solid.”

A lot of churches have gotten away from the academic discipline of theology and research into the original languages which is really to our shame. I’m not saying that every pastor needs a PhD or a DMin, but I am saying that every pastor should continue in his self-study and personal research. A pastor ought never to give up proper reading in the name of spending too much time planning the next big event. 

#3: Lack of Adequate Discipleship

Some of Jesus’s very last words to His disciples right before He ascended to heaven were that they should “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” And He promised that when they did this, He would be with them to the very end of the age.

This is a pretty tall order and one that even the most evangelical churches can forget. You see, Jesus did not simply call people to stand on street corners preaching “repent! Turn and burn!” type sermons. Instead He called for something that takes much longer and that requires more careful attention – discipling. Discipling is not a one-off. Anyone who has worked with kids knows that. It’s not enough just to get people into the door (although that certainly would be a start), it’s about continuing that relationship and helping people to grow and move forward in their spiritual lives.

When a church doesn’t know how to properly disciple people they may:

* Initially see a large number of people flocking to their church, but eventually many of those same people will drop off.
* They may see people making a commitment to Christ, but that commitment will be shallow at best.
* They may see kids excited about Sunday school or VBS, but when asked, those same kids will say they are only excited about the crafts, games, or snacks.
* They may see parents who bring their children but only for “babysitting services.”
* They may see congregants content to just take in theology for an hour a week without doing any of the “hardwork” themselves at home.

In short, you’ll probably see lots of lazy congregants. People who don’t know the Scriptures and really have no intention to learn. People who aren’t able to defend their faith, but simply rely on their pastor to spoon-feed them everything.

I think we all can attest to how important teaching, training, equipping, and encouraging really are, so why don’t we do more of it?

* Our leaders may not have been properly discipled themselves so they may be clueless.


* Some leaders may be stuck in “old school mentalities” that really are not culturally connected to children in this day and age. They may assume that because they learned in a certain way when they were in Sunday school, this should still be the case now. They forget that we now have cell phones, endless demands, and the attention span the size of a goldfish to contend with.

* Also, we have to remember that people are busy. That some people just don’t choose to carve this time out for themselves. It’s just not a priority. So for some people, church is the only spiritual nourishment they will receive all week.

 * And if you’re teaching kids you have to remember – they have been in school for the past 5 days. The last thing they want is for Sunday school to be as boring as learning algebra or multiplication tables. We have to ENGAGE them and allow them to THINK, CREATE, AND IMAGINE!

So we know that this is an easily neglected area, but what can we do about it?

* We can work on discipling ourselves first. This means, we keep up our own spiritual practices: we read, we study, we meditate, and we explore. It may mean that we meet with mentors or spiritual directors. It certainly means that we pray, fast, and participate in our daily devotional life.
* It means that we engage with resources and key people who actually know about this kind of stuff. If we’re in ministry it means we go out of our way to attend conferences and training events. That we put a line in our budget to buy new materials and curriculums on a regular basis.
* It means that we follow a faith formation process and learn how kids think and relate to this world. We ask them what they like and don’t like and we engage the parents. We try to instil in the parents that Sunday school is not an hour long baby-sitting service, but that it’s something more. When possible, we try to get the kids to bring home something tangible (a craft, a picture, a memory verse) to share with their families.

When a church is properly engaged in the ministry of discipleship we see:

* Kids who are passionate and excited about going to church (and even invite their friends)


* Youth who begin to “own” their own faith rather than just do what their parents tell them to


* Young adults who continue to attend services and be active participants in their local church even when they have moved away from home and no longer “have to”


* Parents who are willing to train up a child in the way he should go

* Adults who are spiritual mature and have a strong faith that is not tossed about by the winds of hardship that come tumbling through

 * Single people who teach married people and married people who teach single people


* Where all are valued, treasured, and sought out regardless of age, gender, ability, or socio-economic status

Jesus’s call to go and make disciples was a pretty serious one. Yes, it can include short term service projects or long-term missionary partnerships, but it includes something far more. It includes a faith that begins at home and a home that is built on faith. More than that, it truly believes that it takes a church to raise a child.

#4: Lack of Community Presence

My aunt and uncle live across the street from a very large church, yet when my father asked them if anyone has ever invited them to this church before they responded “no.” He asked them if they would consider attending if someone invited them to a special event and they said “yes.” So why don’t they just go?

Everyone’s comfort level is slightly different. For someone who grew up in the church and feels connecting with others spiritually is a primary priority to them, they might seek out such groups. However, if someone is unfamiliar with church, they may be shy to just show up. What they are really looking for is a face-to-face connection. They are looking for an invite.

We all like to be invited to things. We like group invites on Facebook and mailed out invites on fancy paper for weddings. We like to know that people are thinking of us and that we are not being ignored. So it’s important for churches to get the word out.

When the community doesn’t even know the church exists or doesn’t know what the church is about:

* Their interest isn’t piqued. They just simply don’t care.
* They may be curious, but they don’t know when the events are on, so they don’t show up.
* They may even get the impression that the church itself could care less about whether they are there or not.

People want to know we care and as a church we need to care. So how do we communicate that caring?

* We make having an updated and easily accessible website a priority (more and more people these days are discovering churches because of an initial Google search. Just ask anyone new to your city how they found out about your church? If it wasn’t word of mouth or the random “walk by” it was probably through the Internet)

 * We make our bulletins accessible – we make sure everyone who walks in gets one handed right to them, we use a readable font size and type, and we stick other invitation cards right into the bulletin when necessary. When we host events we try to give as brief yet as comprehensible of a description as possible so people know what’s really going to happen. We include the event for a few weeks so that way if someone misses one Sunday they won’t be completely out of the loop. We also post it on our website and social media.

 * We welcome newcomers – we engage in small talk, direct them to their seats, and if there’s an upcoming event we invite them to it (we even offer to grab a coffee or tea for them after the service!)

 * We use a variety of ways to get our message across (Powerpoint, email, Facebook groups, MeetUps)

 * We ask our congregants and newcomers how they best would like to be in touch (Email, Facebook, texting – by the way, if you work with youth try using social media. Kids respond on Facebook far more often than they do with phone calls. Conversely, if you’re working with seniors a phone call or even mailing is usually the preferred method over Twitter).

 * When someone has missed several weeks in a row, we ask someone to check-in with them (If you have a medium-sized or large church “Friendship Rosters” can help significantly with this one because it may be difficult to remember who all was out)

 * We provide a place for prayer and the sharing of concerns one-on-one with a pastor or other ministry leader after the service and throughout the week.
* We ask other people for their input. We don’t assume what the people want, we ASK them what they want.

* We are aware of various other services and resources in the area and we seek to make those resources available in multiple ways (posters, referrals, safe spaces). If you’re new to the area, this is also a perfect time for you to become acquainted with some of the services your area offers. Consider making a binder and including information and numbers for: local hospitals, mental health and addiction services, spiritual direction and counseling, foodbanks, halfway and transition houses, lawyers, banks, women’s and men’s shelters, the Children’s Aid, local schools, tutoring services, and more.

When people know we care, they:

* Come out to events and bring their friends and family
* Eventually might become curious enough to attend a service
* Speak highly of our church and feel like their needs are being met
* Feel like it’s a safe and “fun” place to bring their kids and grandkids to                                                                                                                                                            * Know geographically where we are and what we’re all about

Please don’t underestimate this one. You may think community engagement is not as important as theology or discipleship, but unless you first get people into your door, they’ll never hear your theology or get to the stage where they seek out discipleship. Churches that collaborate with their community and get to know their neighbours are churches which are more likely to be integrated with the city and more sought-out by newcomers.

 

#5: Lack of Leadership Formation in the Next Generation

Although I put this priority last, it is actually one of the most vital for ensuring the long-jevity of your church. There’s something that we all know is true, but none of us wants to admit it:

We will not live forever and when we die, we need the next generation to take our place. If we are a thriving and growing church right now but we have no children, youth, or young adults, when this generation is gone, the church will not survive. It will shut down. That’s a hard pill to swallow – but unless we look it straight in the eye, we are doing ourselves a disservice and living in denial.

Churches that do not place a high priority or emphasis on children’s and youth ministry:

* Either have no kids to begin with

* Or their Sunday school is all about crafts and games and their youth group is all about keeping kids off the street by “having fun” (which, of course, is good to a degree, but will not retain kids for the long-run)

These churches either:

* Are not concerned with their long-jevity

* Or else simply don’t know what to do to bring more kids in and may even be perpetually discouraged.

So let’s assume that the church truly does care and is worried about their future, but doesn’t know where to start.

Here’s what we need to do:

* We need to look OUTSIDE of our church walls and find ways to get other kids involved. We need to “advertise” and “get the word out.”  We need special family feature events, and not just for our own families either.                                              

   * We need to balance out fun and faith and see that those two words are actually quite compatible. We need to teach kids about Christ in a way that makes them hunger and thirst for more, but also doesn’t scare them off.
* We need to encourage parents to find faith a priority rather than just another ditch-able option                                          

* We need to help parents be the best parents they possibly can be
* We need to develop programs in our churches for children who have special needs and cater specifically to those who would not thrive in a “typical” church setting

When a church does this, here’s what we get:

* Kids eager and excited to keep returning.

* Kids who tie previous lessons in with what they are currently learning          

   * Youth who begin developing leadership skills and are affirmed for them

 * Young adults who find they truly have a voice and are welcomed…and no longer treated just like kids


* A healthy generation of future leaders growing up learning what it means to take on the responsibility of the church so that tomorrow there will still be a church

 * People who truly feel like church matters

This is all a lot of information to take in and at first glance it can be very difficult to navigate or even know where to begin. But let me break it down for you:

WE NEED

* To make church a priority – not just another throw-away option

* To have good theology where people are clear about what we believe and why

* To adequately train people of all ages and equip them for real life service (not just behind church walls)

* To get out there and help the community put a face to a name

* To see the value of children, youth, and young adults and ensure that they have a special place in the life of the church (that they aren’t seen just as “mini-adults” but as people in a very important life stage RIGHT NOW)

AND THE PEOPLE WHO ATTEND (OR ARE THINKING OF ATTENDING) OUR CHURCH NEED TO:

* Know where we are and what we’re all about
* Know the basics of what we believe and why
* Know when big events are happening and feel included in those events
* Know that we are a safe place where they will be loved, accepted, and cared for no matter what
* Know that if they have children or grandchildren it will be a place where young ones are treasured, taught and trained in a way that affirms who they are already (not who they might become or who their parents “think” they should become)

And when this happens we will be a healthy church that grows, thrives, and is faithful to all that God has called us to be at this time, in this place, in this location, and to this generation.

To Grow a Church

church Yesterday I attended my first ever “Visioning Retreat” through a local church.  The retreat was an opportunity for us to gather together, dream, discuss,  and reflect on what makes a church and how the church can engage more people.  We all have been part of churches that were so vibrant, filled with joy and exuberance, and where we truly felt like we were part of something wonderful.  We’ve probably also been to a few churches where we’ve felt out of place, discouraged, and like we had to hide our true identity.  So what makes those experiences (both in relatively the same place) so different and how do we truly know whether a church is thriving or if it’s time for the church to radically reconfigure everything they have previously done?

SIGNS THAT A CHURCH IS DOING WELL

Different people have different measures of success and it is important to note that success does not always mean the church has hundreds of people attending it. A church can have 50 people on a given week and still be thriving. Likewise a church can have 500 people every week and yet not have a sense of cohesiveness or deep fellowship. My own personal definition of success is: a church which is faithful to the unique calling and vision God has placed in it at this time, for this season, in this geographical location, and for these people. My criteria for how one can measure this is as follows:

A church which is truly successful will:

* Engage with the people who are already there and encourage people who don’t yet attend to come in
* Work within the established traditions to create new, fresh, innovative ideas
* Seek a wide-range of voices and discuss a variety of relevant and interesting topics.

When a church is doing well:

* There is internal diversity and yet a sense of unity, peace, and calm

* People feel they can be their authentic selves and the fullest version of who God has created them to be (they will not need to put on a “mask” or a “false front.”)

* People in the community will know who they are, why they are there, and generally what they believe and why
* People will be excited to be part of this community and will want to draw others into it

 

Conversely, when a church is not doing well

* There is murmuring, complaining, back-biting, gossip, and comparing

* People keep referring to the “good old days” and cannot move forward

* People are unwilling or unable to change, to embrace new ideas, to be challenged, and to grow spiritually

* There are no (or very few) children, youth, and young adults within the congregation which signals in a very real way that unless things change and fast, this may very well be the last generation that will worship within the walls of this church

 

MY TOP 5 LIST

One of my only experiences of finding a new church was when I moved to Edinburgh. Although I’ve worshipped in many other communities, the majority of them were for university and seminary placements so I was essentially “told” where I would be going. The fact that I had to find my way around in Edinburgh really taught me a few things about looking for a church. Like I said, everyone’s priorities are slightly different, but here are my major priorities:

#1: I admit, theology is important to me, but it’s not the very first place I look. The first thing I looked for when I started “church shopping” was where I felt most at home. When I walked into the church I wanted to be noticed as an outsider. I wanted people to greet me, introduce me to the pastor, and tell me about all the wonderful programs being held. I wanted people to pick up from my accent that I “wasn’t from around here” and ask me where I was from (without assuming I was an American). For me a friendly welcome is important. I need a place where I can network and see friendships and relationships as being a possibility. I do not want to feel like an outsider or like the church is made up of cliques that I can never fully enter into.

#2: Once I feel comfortable in the church itself, the next step is to see what their preaching is all about. As a self-proclaimed nerd, I value a church community that makes me think, but also that allows me to feel. I like a church with a solid Bible study or other small group opportunities I can be a part of. I like to learn from the experience of others, but also want to share my own experience. In short, I am looking for companions on my journey.

#3: I look for a church where I can be my most authentic self. Being a woman with a very strong calling to ministerial leadership is seldom an easy task. I want a church that affirms this calling and can support me through it. I do not want to debate and have to justify myself every other minute.

#4: I look for a church that gives me opportunities to serve. In the second bullet, I mentioned how important it is for me to have a space to grow and develop as a young Christian, but now I need to mention that being an activist at heart, I need to keep busy or else I’ll turn restless. I like a church that has a proven track record for helping “the least of these” and that has many different opportunities to plug into service. I want a church where being Jesus’s hands and feet is a reality, not just a talked about idealized fantasy.

#5: Lastly, I look for same age peers. Although I believe it is important to have people from a wide variety of ages and life stages, we also need some people from our own situation. I can gain a lot of wisdom from elderly people (and typically I enjoy hanging out with older adults more than with people my own age), but still…as someone who is single with no children I want people I can discuss jobs, schooling, and the stress of #adulting with. Not just people who are raising three young kids themselves.

 

REACHING OUT TO OTHER CHRISTIAN GROUPS

Churches cannot be self-sufficient, they will only survive when they become more inclusive than insular, more aware than aloof. When I was in Edinburgh, I discovered a very different mentality for church growth, that I never really witnessed here in Canada. That’s because in Edinburgh I discovered that we’re all really on the same page. Our only mission and goal is to see lives changed and hearts transformed and we are willing to go to any length to see that happen. Thus, we warmly welcome people into our churches, but we also acknowledge that God may be calling different people to different churches at different times and that our church might not necessarily be the place they are called to be.

Here’s what I mean. It should never be about:

* Who has the biggest program

* Who has the biggest budget

OR
* Who has the best teaching

It should be about churches learning from one another and cooperating with one another in order to see the Kingdom Come!

When I moved back to Canada I became involved in a really wonderful Presbyterian church. I love many things about them, but what I probably love the most is the way they work with other churches. That’s why:

*Although we have no young adult program of our own, the leaders encourage us to join other local young adults groups

* Although we didn’t have a Christmas Day service, the pastors encouraged us to attend other local Christmas Day services (and even wrote where they were in our bulletin)
* Although we have a lot of cool programs, we’re also invited to take part in other cool activities at other cool churches

What do we get in exchange for this?

Well, in Edinburgh my church (which was Church of Scotland – Presbyterian) always “advertised” events that happened at the local Baptist Church. Theologically they were two very different churches. The “feel” was different in both. BUT when the Presbyterians spoke about a Baptist conference people went and that meant that when the Presbyterians had an event the Baptists also came. So instead of being two insular churches, we were really two churches that reached out to one another in love. I believe that if every church did this, we’d get a whole lot further rather than just being stuck in the mud.

 

MOVING FORWARD

Even the most established and thriving church must contentiously consider the issue of “visioning” from time to time. The structure of the church changes depending on the needs of the generation and the culture. If people do not feel like the church is “connecting” to them, they won’t come. Plain and simple as that.

A lot of people in my generation (20s and 30s) have already lost the value of church. And that’s why I think it’s important to reimagine what church has the potential to be. It doesn’t always have to be formal, we also crave the informal. We need to be pushed, but we also need to be embraced. We need to be taught, but we also long to teach. And most importantly, we long for a place of connection, where we can truly say “this is it. This is where I need to be. I’ve arrived.”

 

CONCLUSION

Growing churches grow because they are faithful to the unique vision God has given them at this time, for this people, and in this geographical location. Every church’s vision is slightly different which is what makes them unique. Yet, we cannot allow this sense of “unique identity” to tear us away from what is truly important – the saving of souls and the eternal destiny of all. We must cooperate with other churches in order to see our role in the larger picture. When we become more inclusive and less insular this is when we will truly thrive and that is, what I believe, Christ wants most of all.

 

 

courageous-leadership-is-required-to-grow-a-church-the-growing-church