• Facebook Tools and Unhelpful Words

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    Occasionally, I come across online resources that I think are too good not to share.

    A couple of weeks ago, I saw a blog post from Josh Burns about the best time to post on Facebook. If your church has a Facebook page, the article is worth reading. He gives step-by-step directions on how to use a tool that let’s you see when the people who like your page are Facebook. It doesn’t identify by individual, but a quick look told me that our peak time is actually between 7 PM and 9 PM, but we have another peak first thing in the morning which is when we usually post. You can find the article here: http://joshburns.net/blog/?p=2810

    The second resource is an article from the Washington Post listing 5 Churchy Phrases that are scaring off Millennials. The article doesn’t have anything particularly unexpected, but it is a good reminder that we need to remember that what we say isn’t always heard in the way that we intend.

  • PEWspective — Watering down the Message

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    I entered the sanctuary of the church where we were worshipping expecting a wonderful All Saints Sunday and found instead a Kitchen Sink Sunday that opened with announcements from the council member of the day reminding the congregation of a meeting to be held after the service, then a 15 minute, well-done, Power Point presentation on giving for this was Stewardship Sunday, announcements from the Pastor as the window coverings that allowed the presentation to be viewed were removed from the windows, a choral prelude and then the service started. Over an hour and a half after the first set of announcements, the service ended, the pastor greeted the guests, and the congregational meeting started. At least I think it started because we left before the meeting.

    I exited shaking my head because Kitchen Sink Sundays, when we try to do so much at one service, do a disservice to each of the themes. In talking to my wife, I discovered that it bothered me much more than it bothered her. She mumbled something about how I always find something wrong. In my defense, I reminded her that I was even harder on myself looking for ways to make a service more effective when I was pastor because I feel that congregational ministry deserves our best. She nodded her head in total agreement. The pastor in me remembered how important All Saints Sunday, Stewardship Sunday and congregational leadership were.

    The announcement about the congregational meeting was disturbing because the congregation did not have enough candidates to fill the needed vacancies on their governing body. I thought about it a number of times afterward wondering why this was true?

    I believe strongly in stewardship and always wanted a superb effort so this important message could speak to all. Stewardship Sunday deserves a stewardship sermon and petitions in the prayer concerning stewardship, both of which were missing.

    Part of my disappointment stemmed from All Saints Day worship experiences over the years that have created moving and meaningful moments. My expectations and hopes definitely got in the way. The other activities lessened the emphasis of All Saints in spite of an excellent sermon.

    In the end, nothing flowed together. The congregational meeting started and finished the service. The service tried to intertwine two separate acts, but failed to tie them together. As a result, I left thinking how three wonderful opportunities were missed rather than thinking how God came to me and helped me to be a saint or how God’s grace is so significant that we need to respond with our time, talent and money–including leadership.

    I read an article last week about multi-tasking and the conclusion of the study was that multi-taking reduces the quality of the work on any one task. I felt the same way after the service and I was not a part of the congregational meeting.

    Part of me is always asking how we as churches can be more effective in getting the good news into the lives of all people. I do not want God’s message watered down. Congregational ministry deserves our best, so despite the temptation to do everything when we have people gathered in one place, perhaps it is best if pick one and focus on doing it as well as possible.

  • PEW Perspective – Conflict does not have to define a congregation

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    Observations going from pulpit to pew

    After an interim of over two and a half years, my wife and I are visiting congregations looking for a church home in our community. Each week, I am seeing church life from a PEWspective.

    I went to the first church we attended with deep reservations. I knew the story of conflict within the congregation that had resulted in a serious split where many left. To her credit, my wife was not concerned about the conflict and didn’t want to know the story that I tried to share. She merely wanted to attend so I stopped trying to tell her what I knew and we went.

    Conflict has always made me feel uneasy even though I have faced it head-on in my two interims. From the moment we reached the front steps, I discovered that I was in for a wonderful surprise. This was the friendliest congregation I had ever attended. People went out of their way to speak to us and make us welcome. They did not just speak, but shared their stories and one woman even invited us to attend a Bible study that she said “made a difference in my life.” The most telling moment happened when the two women on the pew in front of us were talking to each other after we had talked. They were discussing a women’s event held the day before and one of the women then said, “Isn’t it wonderful to be part of a happy, helping church again.”

    Could it be possible that out of the conflict and split that the people were beginning to discover anew what it meant to be the people of God at this place? I had not expected that reaction. The two women continued talking about what it meant to be happy and helping. I immediately wondered if the people who had left might be saying the same thing–”Isn’t it wonderful to be part of a happy, helping church again.”

    Conflict is a black hole that absorbs all the energy and enthusiasm leaving no time for anything else. Taking a side in the dispute is more important that listening to God’s call to mission and ministry which gets pushed to the side as the conflict escalates and is played out.

    I’m sure that both sides in this conflict will face difficult times ahead but I was taught an important lesson. I was defining the congregation in terms of conflict but they taught me that conflict does not have to define a congregation. When we begin to concentrate on reaching out in our Lord’s name, we begin to move past conflict to a happy and helping fellowship of believers.

  • Small Catechism Study

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    I just came across a Small Catechism study produced by Wartburg Seminary called, “Connections: Faith and Life“.   According to their introductory material, “the goal of Connections is to help participants meet God in their everyday lives. The material is designed to help them connect faith and daily living by moving back and forth between God and self, self and others, world and Word.”(pg. 2, Intro).

    There are four units - Unit One: Living Faithfully (The Ten Commandments); Unit Two: Living Confidently (The Apostles’ Creed); Unit Three: Living Spiritually (The Lord’s Prayer); and Unit Four: Living Freely (The Sacraments) and each unit has several sessions.

    The material is free and it looks like it is designed to be used in a variety of settings.

  • Help Starting a New Road

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    I spent last week end as a chaplain at New Road 31 at the Kinard Camp and Conference Center near Batesburg-Leesville, South Carolina.  The event, held for the 31st consecutive year, is for people who have recently lost spouses.  The gathering was valuable for me when I lost my wife, Nancy, but it had been 11 years since I had been able to serve as a chaplain.  These are my reflections about what I relearned or saw from a different perspective.

    · The experts in helping with the grief and loss associated with the death of a spouse are the people who have gone through it and are able to share their experiences in a helpful way.  The emphasis for me is on helpful.  Each leader for the small group discussions had been through a previous new road and had been willing to return as a brother or sister guiding the way.  They were great at listening and guiding the experience in a super-supportive manner.  Around 20 other past participants came back to provide help in a variety of different ways.

    · Almost all the participants shared their anxieties as they thought about backing out and not attending.   Just coming in to register was daunting.  At a previous New Road, one man could not bring himself to go in on Friday evening when he arrived so he spent the night in his car in the parking lot..  The next morning, he decided to walk in for breakfast.  The event is now so important to his new road that he was one of the helpful team leaders this year.

    · The death of a spouse is traumatic enough but so many happenings around the death create even more trauma.  The issues were difficult and different for each person ranging from the burden of finances to unhelpful family and friends.  The bottom line is that most participants were dealing with numerous other significant issues in addition to the death.

    · Guilt is alive and rampant in the lives of those who have lost a spouse.  We have learned exceptionally well to accept guilt  and my experiences would suggest that guilt becomes magnified under stress.  Guilt never helps.  Repeat that to yourself over and over again.

    · Advice from experts can be helpful.  We had significant sharing from a hospice chaplain, a psychologist who works with grief and loss, an estate lawyer and an expert in Social Security.  Not all needed everything that was said but all needed some part of everything that was said.  You have to be the expert and know what is helpful to you.

    Every one of the participants with whom I spoke told me how much they had benefited from the experience.  As one woman said to me, “I feel like a new person.”  Not only was she a new person but she now has a new road.

  • Helpful Questions

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    Four Helpful Questions for Congregations to ask?

    From Pastor Rick Goeres

    What are we doing well?

    What do we need to strengthen?

    What do we need to start doing?

    What do we need to stop doing?

    For Council Meetings

    From Pastor James Armentrout

    Where have you seen the Holy Spirit active in the congregation or the world since our last meeting?

  • Renovate or Die

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    I recently finished reading a wonderful, helpful book called, “Renovate or Die: Ten Ways to Focus Your Church on Mission” by Rev. Bob Farr, the director of the Center for Congregational Excellence for the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church. If you are interested in focusing your congregation on mission and ministry, then I highly recommend you pick up the book.

    Just as many others have done, Farr makes the case that congregations need to adapt to today’s changing world and he invites congregations to stop redecorating all their old programs and ideas and instead undertake the a complete renovatation to help them focus on mission and ministry.  In this way, Farr’s book is similar to many other books in ‘the church needs to change’ category.

    What made Farr’s book different for me was the practical advice he offers for achieving mission-focused change.  He offers concrete ideas for new approaches to ministry.  He recommends the  best resources he has encountered in areas like spiritual gift identification.  He asks questions that open the door to an in-depth examination of current ministry practices like, ‘If someone has been a part of your congregation for 40 years, how do you expect their lives to be transformed? ‘   I wrote notes all over the margins while I was reading and his ideas have already inspired me to begin a conversation about new ways forward for our congregation.

    If you are interested, the book is currently on sale at Cokesbury.com.

  • Posting Scripture

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    A few years ago, we started posting signs around our facility with important and helpful scripture verses.  They are all over the building and surround the ministry that we do.  To get started, participants in the ministry for their favorite Bible verses and then started printing the verses on brightly colored paper and posting them in high traffic areas.   It’s worked well and people have responded positively.

    I recently read a blog post from Steve Fogg with clear and simple suggestions for posting scripture verses in social media.  The blog is very helpful and you can read it at: 5 Simple Examples of Scripture that have High Engagement on Social Media.  His blog has inspired me to start posting scripture related to Sunday’s sermon on our social media outlets and to add signs each week to our building that reflect that key verse.  I’ll be interested to see if the exposure in multiple places enhances the connections between scripture, sermon and daily life.

  • Thinking, Rethinking and Re-acting: Progress is Action

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    Progress is action

    1. Never consider money as a deterrent to action.  Limited resources force us to make the most with what we have.  All churches have limited resources which means that we must be creative in deciding how to get the most ministry out of the resources we have.  We can do amazing things with the gifts that God has given to us.  Remember—God does not call us to do anything that he does not give us the power to do!
    2. Don’t back away from an action because there is a risk involved.  If we are not taking any risks as we lead the congregation forward, we have forgotten about the role of faith and how God will provide.  Being faithful means that we sometimes take risks.  Trust in God!
    3. “Standing for something isn’t just about writing it down.  It’s about believing it and living it.  (Rework, page 48)
    4. One significant way to act today is to teach effectively in a variety of          different ways and times to all people.  Teaching can also be support groups such as for caregivers or people who are divorced.
    5. Acting friendly is good but it is not enough.  Being friendly only brings someone into the family.  They stay because this community shares Christ through their missions in action.  They make a difference for Christ again and again.
    6. Continually thank people and then thank them some more.
  • Thinking, Rethinking and Re-acting: Share, Communicate, Celebrate

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    Farm out to a team when necessary

    1. The Council (or Leadership Team) needs to understand when it is necessary to farm out plans or ideas to a team for study. This will be the only responsibility for the team so they can concentrate on the main issues.

    2. Understand the differences between a team and a committee. A team plays only one sport like a football team only plays football. They specialize in an area in which they are passionate. A committee plays football, basketball, baseball, track, soccer and tennis. A team has one thing to do while a committee has so many things to do that it is difficult to add a new task.

    Communicate/Celebrate

    1. In the book, The Purpose Driven Church, the suggestion is to use the “Nehemiah Principle” – Vision and purpose must be restated every 26 days to keep the church moving in the right direction. This is the foremost responsibility of leadership.

    2. We build upon that vision by trying to –Equip the Saints for Ministry. Some congregations try to share the story of your ministry in bulletins and newsletters, but we need to share it even more.

    3. We need to continually celebrate every victory and involve the congregation and the community in the celebration. If you are giving a gift or sharing a ministry, do it at worship where all can see and then share photos. Use online tools and sermons. Put up posters and tell the local paper. Rejoice and celebrate the ministry that God is accomplishing through you.