Category: Ministry

What Business is Your Church In?

Change is a reality. We can recognize and deal with it, or we can let it run over us.

Kodak is a prime example. A success for many years, changing technology finally caught up with them. They thought they were in the film and camera business, when they should have recognized they were in the picture business.

First came digitization, which allows us to take and store photographs in a digital form rather than on film. One can only how the executives at Kodak once laughed at that silly concept. Yet soon millions of people were storing their favorite images on their computers – then on their phones – rather than on paper. And then they discarded the camera altogether and began taking photos with those same phones.

As a February 17 article in The Wall Street Journal observed, “In 1996 Kodak employed 140,000 people and had a market value of $28 billion. In January 2012 it filed for bankruptcy. Instagram was founded in October 2010 and was bought by Facebook in April 2012 for $1 billion. It had 13 employees at the time.”

The last buggy whip maker survived for awhile, but then it was all gone. Kodak was the last buggy whip maker of old-school photography. Unfortunately, many of our churches are the last buggy whip makers in their neighborhoods – clinging to the methods that comforted the flock in the 1950’s but oblivious to the changing culture around them.

As organizations like Kodak didn’t do, we need to focus on our real mission, not cling to outdated methodology. We are not in the pews and parsons business – we are in the gospel business. We are not called to defend and cling to the methodologies that our grandparents used to grow churches in their generation. We are called to be students of both scripture and culture, so that we can determine how to most effectively communicate God’s truth to a lost and dying world.

Being There

In a recent op-ed piece for The New York Times, columnist David Brooks tells about the Woodiwiss family and the tragedies they experienced, with the death of one daughter and the terrible accident of another. That drove me to the blog post on the Sojourners website (where Catherine Woodiwiss is an editor) on which Brooks based his column.

The article is packed with helpful insights for all of us as we deal with individuals and families who have been the victims of tragedy and trauma. Among their observations:
Surviving TraumaPresence is always better than distance.

“There is a curious illusion that in times of crisis people “need space.” I don’t know where this assumption originated, but in my experience it is almost always false. Trauma is a disfiguring, lonely time even when surrounded in love; to suffer through trauma alone is unbearable. Do not assume others are reaching out, showing up, or covering all the bases.

“This is a tough one. In times of crisis, we want our family, partner, or dearest friends to be everything for us. But surviving trauma requires at least two types of people: the crisis team — those friends who can drop everything and jump into the fray by your side, and the reconstruction crew — those whose calm, steady care will help nudge you out the door into regaining your footing in the world. In my experience, it is extremely rare for any individual to be both a firefighter and a builder. This is one reason why trauma is a lonely experience. Even if you share suffering with others, no one else will be able to fully walk the road with you the whole way.Surviving trauma takes “firefighters” and “builders.” Very few people are both.

Do not offer platitudes or comparisons. Do not, do not, do not.

“I’m so sorry you lost your son, we lost our dog last year … ” “At least it’s not as bad as … ” “You’ll be stronger when this is over.” “God works in all things for good!” When a loved one is suffering, we want to comfort them. We offer assurances like the ones above when we don’t know what else to say. But from the inside, these often sting as clueless, careless, or just plain false.

“Trauma is terrible. What we need in the aftermath is a friend who can swallow her own discomfort and fear, sit beside us, and just let it be terrible for a while.”

There are a lot more valuable insights in the article, and I encourage you to read it – particularly if you are a church leader who is called on to comfort those in pain and grief.

A New Normal: Ten Things I’ve Learned About Trauma
Catherine Woodiwiss

Another reason faith matters

In his May 18 column for the New York Times, Ross Douthat pointed to a disturbing trend in American life – even as other violent crime is on the decline, suicide is increasing, He writes: “In the 1990s, the suicide rate dipped with the crime rate. But since 2000, it has risen, and jumped particularly sharply among the middle-aged. The suicide rate for Americans 35 to 54 increased nearly 30 percent between 1999 and 2010; for men in their 50s, it rose nearly 50 percent. More Americans now die of suicide than in car accidents, and gun suicides are almost twice as common as gun homicides.

“This trend is striking without necessarily being surprising. As the University of Virginia sociologist Brad Wilcox pointed out recently, there’s a strong link between suicide and weakened social ties: people — and especially men — become more likely to kill themselves ‘when they get disconnected from society’s core institutions (e.g., marriage, religion) or when their economic prospects take a dive (e.g., unemployment).’ That’s exactly what we’ve seen happen lately among the middle-aged male population, whose suicide rates have climbed the fastest: a retreat from family obligations, from civic and religious participation, and from full-time paying work.

“The hard question facing 21st-century America is whether this retreat from community can reverse itself, or whether an aging society dealing with structural unemployment and declining birth and marriage rates is simply destined to leave more people disconnected, anxious and alone.” (Click here to read the full column)

As Wilcox notes, suicide rates tend to increase as people disengage from “society’s core institutions” like marriage and religion. As Christians, we understand that reality, because we recognize that humanity was created to live in community and in relationship with God. As we preach, the hope we offer in Christ is not only for an eternity with God; it is hope that can make a life-or-death difference in the lives of people right now.

Preaching and Pastoral Care

As a young pastor while in seminary, I served a congregation where the median age was probably 87. Yet amazingly, during my two years as their pastor, not one member of the congregation died, and only one had any kind of serious illness. I told them I was good for their health, and it appears that was the case, since two of them passed away within six months after my departure. Later, when I was an associate pastor in Tallahassee, I had an arrangement with the senior pastor. He did the hospital visits, which he enjoyed, and I did the committee meetings and other administration, which he despised. It was a win-win.

As we were developing our Master of Ministry program at Anderson University, I was sometimes asked if there would be a course on counseling. My standard response was – how long does it take to learn to refer someone to a trained counselor?

OK, so I am not Mr. Pastoral Care. Mercy and compassion are not among my primary spiritual gifts. My counseling style leans more toward grabbing someone by the scruff of the neck, shaking them, and saying, “Quit doing that!”

Though it may not be my primary ministry gift, nevertheless I do understand the vital role that pastoral care plays in ministry. In fact, before moving to South Carolina, we lived in Nashville and I was deacon training coordinator for a congregation where we had about 250 deacons, divided into 12 teams, and they handled 90% of the pastoral care needs of that church. The deacons did most of the hospital visitation – as the pastor told members, if they saw him in their hospital room it was not good news – so I helped train deacons for basic pastoral care tasks they would be performing in their ministry role. So though I’m not good at it, I do believe in it!

And I do find it interesting to think about the relationship of preaching to pastoral care. In the very first year of Preaching magazine – back in 1985 and 86 – I enlisted Wayne Oates to do a series on preaching and pastoral care. At the very start of that series, he made this observation: “For most of Christian history, preaching and pastoral care would not be spoken of with a plural verb. Preaching and pastoral care were seen and practiced as a singular experience. The earliest formulations of pastoral care in this century began in the pulpits of exceptionally persuasive and gifted preaching pastors.”

Oates cites several well-known preachers in their time as models of this synthesis of preaching and pastoral care, such as Theodore Adams, pastor of First Baptist Church of Richmond, VA for many years. “Adams’ preaching was energized by his shepherding care of individuals and small groups. In the early 1930′s he was intensely concerned with synthesizing his preaching with a genuinely scientific approach to pastoral care.

“Contemporary with Adams in the Southern Baptist ministry was a brilliant array of pastors in other communions. Ralph Sockman blended preaching and pastoral care as he preached to Methodist congregations. John Sutherland Bonnell and George Buttrick were Presbyterian preachers and authors whose sermons spoke directly to the needs of persons for ethical reinforcement of their Christian faith and personal fortification in their personal and family lives. Paul Scherer spoke as an inspired Lutheran to the need of people for pastoral care. To him preaching was an ‘event in eternity.’

“The issues of ‘being a real person’ were addressed . . . by Harry Emerson Fosdick at Riverside Church in New York. He measured the effectiveness of his sermons by the number of persons who sought his care and counsel in the following week. Norman Vincent Peale, in the Dutch Reformed Church, is well known for his books, but few beyond his parish (knew of) his remarkably pastoral preaching Sunday after Sunday at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Even fewer realize that he established what was probably the first pastoral counseling center in the context of a local church.

“These pastors, and many others of their generation, saw preaching and pastoral care as functional extensions of each other, not as separate disciplines between which a pastor chose. They taught homiletics and pastoral care in seminaries adjacent to their pastoral fields of action. In doing so they assumed that pastoral care and counseling is not a specialty apart from preaching but an organic whole with preaching.”

While these pulpit giants of the mid-twentieth century saw preaching and pastoral care as integrally related, in more recent years these two fields have been seen and taught as distinct specialties in pastoral theology. The danger of that separation is that without a lively connection to pastoral life, preaching can easily become an academic exercise disengaged from the lives of God’s people.  Likewise, pastoral care needs to be connected to the active study and proclamation of God’s Word, “because without preaching as the proclamation of the good news of the available Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ, caring for people wears thin and becomes trivial.”

This is why Oates insisted on the importance of “a holistic, inseparable relationship between preaching and pastoral care. . . . The primary responsibility of a Christian pastor is to convey the good news that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. Preaching, teaching, and healing are inseparable ways of doing so.”

The Power of Words

It happened in the 1840s in Uruguay. The Uruguayan Navy was desperate. They were fending off the navy of an aggressive force from Argentina. They ran out of conventional ammunition and thought their cause was lost. Someone came up with a creative idea. They would use old cheese as ammunition. So they raided the kitchen and loaded their cannons with old, hard Edam cheese and used it as cannonballs. Incidentally, they won the battle.

Is it possible for us to take good things and turn them into weapons? Words can be used to edify or to destroy.


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