Monday, September 29, 2008

Happy Birthday To Me!

Birthdays are interesting days. Today I turned 48. In reality, I realize that I have lived well over half my life. It therefore becomes a day of reflection. What have I accomplished thus far in my life? What do I hope to accomplish in the years I have left?

Well, first things first. What have I accomplished? Athletically, I was a pretty good baseball player, even getting to pitch throughout my college years. I even was a pretty good hitter (actually batting .543 as a 15 year old). Academically, I was able to graduate from college with double majors in Christian Education and Bible and most recently earning my MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary. As a Youth Minister and Preacher I have been able to see people come to the Lord and both churches and youth groups grow. I have also seen how shallow much of what I accomplished actually was. I simply was too immature to give God the glory—“I” was why all the good things happened! Good grief! As I look back on those days, I have to cringe at my attitude toward the things that God was accomplishing, not through me, but in spite of me.

So, where does that leave me? I am privileged to serve God in a beautiful area of New Jersey. I am blessed with a congregation that is ready to “make a difference” for God. So, for the rest of my life, I have one and only one goal; to be faithful in what God has called me to be and to do. I will study to give sermons and Bible Studies that are both Biblical and appropriate. I will comfort the hurting, lift up the fallen, and help those who need help. But most of all, I will leave the results up to God. I have relinquished my role as master of my own destiny and that of my congregation. I will be faithful, and leave the results to God. Will it be easy? Well, I wish I could say with all certainty, yes, but that would be untrue. We live in a society that judges us by results. Are there more people in worship? Is the offering growing? Is the congregation more respected in the community? These are the questions that many feel show that the pastor is “effective.”

So, for me, it will be hard to live what I believe. I must continue to battle my desire for “results” and simply be faithful and leave the results to God. After all, He is the one that is in control.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Not My Will

When Jesus prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane he concluded each of his prayers with a declaration that not His will, but God’s will be done. Last night in our bible study of James, this inclusion in our prayers was discussed. James tells us to ask God without doubt or that prayer will be useless. There was the question, then, when we pray, “not my will, but yours” are we simply not asking in true faith, but giving an “out” in case the prayer isn’t answered as we prayed. I believe this a question that we all may have at one time or another. I also believe that we can (and should) pray believing, while remembering that we are not always aware of the ramifications of our prayer. God knows what is best for us and for those we are praying for. That means, that we have to leave room for God’s response to be different than what we may pray.

This is a difficult subject. The parable of the persistent widow encourages us to pray, not once, but persistently. Yet, at the same time, we see Paul who prays three times for his thorn in the flesh to be removed before he is told, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I am sure that Paul truly wanted to have his thorn removed and believed that God would honor that request. What actually happened is that Paul was able to understand that God had a purpose in Paul’s thorn. When we pray, we must (like Jesus and Paul) be willing to accept that our will and God’s will are not always the same.

So, if we pray, “not my will, but yours,” do we doubt? I would say that in some cases, yes. That is not to say we shouldn’t pray this way, it is simply a statement of fact. Too many times we pray without truly believing that our prayer will be answered by God in the way we pray. The answer is not to pray without allowing for God’s will to be done in our prayers, but to truly believe both that God will answer our prayers offered in faith while leaving room for God to be God and to accept that what we ask for is not always in our best interest or the best interest of those we pray for and that God’s perfect will is what we really want to see in our lives and the lives of those we pray for.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What Did You Do Today?

That simple question will be asked countless times today around the globe. Sometimes it will be parents asking their children—sometimes it will be a spouse asking a spouse. It is a simple question, but all too many times we don’t like to have to answer it! It is like taking a test that we didn’t prepare for. I don’t know, what did I do? Our days get so busy that sometimes I really think that we can’t answer that question. We move from one task to another without ever really registering that we have done so. I know that it is true with me. I used to not be able to tell you what I did the previous day (but I knew whatever it was, it was important!) Since I started pasturing in Stillwater, I have taken the time at the end of the day (or the beginning of the next day) to write down what I did. This has been an important practice for me. It keeps me aware of what I accomplished as well as what I didn’t do. There are weeks where I hardly had time to get out and visit people (not a good thing, but it happens none the less.) There are other weeks that it seems that I did nothing other than visit!

It is important for us to see what we are (and aren’t doing) because it is a reflection of our priorities. For me, that means juggling sermon and Bible study preparation around visiting members, visitors, and the sick. It means making sure that I am also taking adequate time to refresh myself physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.

I was never one to keep a journal and “write my thoughts” each day; that is why I began keeping track of my day to day activities. It was simply a way of making sure I was using my time wisely. While this was very helpful in tracking the stewardship of my time, it didn’t really help me remember what I was thinking or dealing with each day as a pastor. That is why I started this blog. For me, it is a chronicle of what I am thinking, doing, and seeking to become.

Well, that is it for me, except to ask, “What did you do today?”

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What Did You See In Church?

In David A. Zimmerman's new book Deliver Us From Me-Ville he suggests that the next time you leave church, you go home and ask yourself these five questions:
1. What did I see today that I am more interested in preserving than Jesus would be?
2. What did I see today that I am more frustrated by than Jesus would be?
3. Where was I tempted to lead more aggressively than Jesus would?
4. Where was I tempted to let pass what Jesus would confront?
5. Who needed to experience the love of God today and didn't? Why not?
These are also really great gut-check questions to ask about your church. Where are you spending time on things that you think Jesus wouldn't mess with? And where do you need to spend more time on things that you think Jesus would really care about?

Wow, if those questions don’t get you thinking, what will? These really all go back to the question that Charles Sheldon posed in his book In His Steps. The question that became popular again a few years ago—“What would Jesus do?” Too often, we come up with simplistic answers to this question. Far too often, the answers are not simple. Jesus tells us to love our neighbor; I get that, but how? Do we love our neighbor by giving them a fish, or by teaching them to fish? Do we love our neighbor by giving them a hand out or a hand up? Too often, we take the easy road: the fish and the hand out. I don’t think that this is really what Jesus would do. Yes, He fed the 4,000 and the 5,000, but he also knew when the people were coming for the wrong reasons (free food and not to learn more of the Kingdom of God.)

Do I always do what Jesus would do? Sadly, no. I wish I could say differently, but the fact remains, I am still human and fail to do the right thing. Does that mean I quit trying to do the right thing? Of course not! What would Jesus have me do? Do my best, and trust God for the rest.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Go Cubs!

For those of you who haven’t figured it out by my subject line, I’m a Cubs fan. I start rooting for the “lovable losers” when I lived in Illinois during the early 80’s. There are times that it is hard to be a Cub’s fan. Seasons start with promise, only to end in disappointment—but there always is next year! Maybe (after 100 years of disappointment) this will be the year they finally win a World Series again. Since they last won a championship, there have been two World Wars; manned flight went from Kitty Hawk to visiting the moon, and so much more. Even Wrigley field (where the Cubs play their home games) wasn’t built when they last won a championship. While the world has changed around them, the Cubs fans remained resolute in rooting for their team. 100 years of frustration will be wiped out should they be able to win this year.

This season, Cubs fans are coming out of the woodwork: people who only love a winner. Those of us who continue to root for our team in the losing seasons have more joy than those who only love a winner (trust me, it’s true.)

How about us? Do we remain faithful to God in the midst of adversity? When a loved one dies or we are diagnosed with cancer, do we remain true? When we lose our job or face financial difficulties, do we continue to trust God? We are told in Scripture that we should consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds, because this testing of our faith develops perseverance and that perseverance must complete its work so that we can become mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4 paraphrased). So, let us not turn from God in the tough times, but instead let us turn TO God through the times of testing so that we can be all that God wants us to be.

Go Cubs! And Go God!

Thursday, September 18, 2008


It’s that time of year. Budgets are being formed. Stewardship programs are being discussed and initiated. This year, many are going to struggle with what they can do in regards to their giving because of the uncertainty in our economy. Will gas go to $5 a gallon (or more)? Will my grocery bill skyrocket? I understand those concerns…they are mine, too. Does that mean I will lower my giving? NO! I believe that God will meet my needs. That being said, I also know that some things that I have taken for granted in the past I will no longer be able to do. I will eat out less. I will shop more carefully (impulse buying must be limited.) I will “make do” with certain things I may have replaced in the past. Why? Because I want to make sure that I am doing everything within my power to be an example to my flock that giving matters.

Does God need my money? Of course not. But we need to give. We need to honor God with our offerings—especially in the tough times. Malachi tells us, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” Do you really think that hanging on to a few extra dollars will help us as much as the FLOODGATES of heaven being opened up to us? I hope not! Does that mean that when I tithe, I will never have any financial problems? No, it doesn’t. The blessings of God are not always financial ones. Sometimes the blessings come in the form of good health so that I don’t have to spend money on doctors or drugs. Sometimes the blessings of God are families that grow closer together. There is an example of that in my congregation. When a man was out of work for a short time, they canceled their cable TV to save some money. They read books together and played games together. When the man started his new job (closer to home and with better pay and hours) they chose not to reinstall the cable. They found that they really liked that family time more than the TV shows they used to watch. Blessings are abundant when we trust God and do what he commands us to do!

So, how about you? Are you more worried about the economy, or more convinced in the blessings of God? Me, I’m sticking with God!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Fellowship. We all need it. We all seek it. I have been privileged over the last day and a half to find some great fellowship with the pastor’s of the Newton Presbytery. Yesterday, I traveled down to Wharton for a half day of study with fellow pastors. I left there to attend my first COM meeting—more fellowship there! This morning I traveled down to Blairstown to attend a breakfast with 8 more new pastor-friends. The food was great, but the time of sharing was even greater. For too long I have been “working in a vacuum.” The ability to share joys and struggles with men and women who are going through the same joys and struggles has a strengthening affect on everyone involved.

I believe that fellowship is one of the key pieces for a congregation that wants to grow. How can we grow if we don’t know each other? How can we know each other if we don’t take the time and the effort to do so? Now I know we Presbyterians like to eat, but we need to make sure that as we have these times of fellowship that ALL people are invited into the circle. Just sharing food, without sharing each other is NOT fellowship! I once heard fellowship described as “all the fellows in the ship.” I take that picture a bit further and think that fellowship can be best pictured as everyone in those old warships with multiple oars. When we are all rowing together, great progress is made, but when some people are rowing against the rest (or stowing their oars and not rowing at all) progress is slow or nonexistent.

So what am I saying? It is time for all us to get our oars in the water and work together. When we do, watch out world! So how about you? Are you rowing, stowing or working against progress? It is time to work together under the guidance of our Holy Coxswain, Jesus Christ!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Brown Bagging It

In my last two full-time pastoral stops, I encourage my congregation to bring brown lunch bags with an item in them to church for the children's lesson. At the appointed time, one child would pick a bag for the lesson and (at my last stop the keyboardist would play the theme from Jeopardy while I took that time to think) I would proceed to give the lesson from the object plucked from the bag. Years of children’s lessons taught in the youth ministry helped me to prepare for this and I wouldn’t encourage anyone to try this without a lot of preparation first, but it was amazing how this simple procedure helped everyone invest in the lesson. People were always trying to “stump the preacher” and sometimes they nearly succeeded! The best part of doing the lessons this way was that with everyone “involved” the lesson gained more credibility and power. A lesson that I may have prepared was nice, but one in which I seemed to prepare “on the fly” gave room for the Spirit to work!

Amy visited my former congregation last Sunday and the brown bag was still being used by the new preacher. I guess it is as they say, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!” I look to begin the practice soon here in Stillwater. I just trust the Spirit to give me the best lesson each week. Besides, if we pastors can’t trust the Spirit, how can we expect our congregations to trust the Spirit!?!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pastor’s Office or Study?

Before the 1950’s, the room where a preacher did his work at the church was usually called the study. At that time, many began to take the business model and call this room, the pastor’s office. This included a shift in the perception of the pastor from shepherd of the flock to corporate CEO. I feel that this is a trend that has to change! At least for me, I feel that the more appropriate term for the room I use is the pastor’s study. It is here that I do the majority of my sermon and lesson preparation. It is here that I also do the majority of my reading. It is an oasis for study, not a nerve center for church operations. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the pastor (especially in today’s society) has to do some work as the CEO—but especially for us Presbyterians, the actual CEO’s are the members of session! For example, while I may maintain the Master Calendar, it is the session that determines what groups will ultimately use the building.

Why do I write this? Because I feel that it is high time we pastors reclaimed the pastor’s study! While planning and preparation for events, Sunday School, VBS, and the like are important (and something we must do) genuine study is what I feel is what is most important for us to remain true to our call. If we fail to put the time into study, our sermons will become weak and ineffective. Our teaching will become stale. Our ministry will become stagnant. True study, of the Scriptures and of other works to aid us in our ministry is the cornerstone of effective pastoral work.

It will take time to reeducate our congregations as to the importance of study, but I believe it will be an effort well spent! Now I need to finish this post, because I need to study!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Why Do I Blog?

Well, maybe I should have written this earlier, but no time like the present! When I started this a couple of weeks ago, I had three major purposes in beginning a blog. The first reason was to “force” me to synthesize what I was reading and doing. It was a way for me to reflect on what I was reading and how it was affecting my view of ministry. The second reason is related to the first. I tend to read 3-5 books at a time (My wife would claim it is that I have ADD!) As I read them, I am never ceased to be amazed at how often the writings “fuse” differing concepts into a new understanding for me. How else can you explain a cookbook that helped me voice some of my ideas about the necessity of fusion in the church? In Seminary, as you read, there was always a precept group or a professor there to evaluate your conclusions (whether or not you wanted the input!) Now, as a solo pastor, there is very little of that interaction with others on the books you are reading. That leads me to the final reason for my blog. I was naïve enough to think that if I invited others to read my blog they would actually take a look at it! Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I felt I had such great things to say that I expected everyone to learn from me. What I hoped for was interaction similar to that in seminary. By that I mean, I was hoping that as friends, family, and colleagues read my blog, there would be a chance for me to further develop my ideas with the contribution of others. As I said earlier, I was naïve. So, I have modified my expectations. My first two purposes remain the same. As for the third purpose, it is still something that I would desire and hope for, but I realize that it may be more than I should expect. Therefore, whenever I do get someone to respond, I will consider it a blessing, but when there is not interaction, I will not be disappointed. After all, as Meatloaf sang, “Two out of three ain’t bad!”

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Restoring the Vow of Stability

Have you noticed that most Pastors don’t stay where they are for long? In the congregation I serve, only one pastor has stayed for more than 10 years in the last 100 years, and the average is just over 4 years. Compare that to the ministry of T.B. Condit who was the pastor here for 44 years (1837-1881, up to his retirement.) Is it any wonder that our parishioners never trust us to “stay put?” As I was interviewed by the PNC (and later by the Session) of the congregation in Stillwater, I told them (and I meant and still mean this) that they shouldn’t hire me unless they were ready to work with me for the rest of my years in ministry. I believe that the Lord has called me to be here, and I plan to honor that call. Understand, that I may not be the best person to say this…in my past ministry positions (early on they were youth and associate positions) I only once stayed more than 3 years. I have grown up since then. I realize that most of my moves were motivated by a lack of faith in God’s provision. If the congregation I was serving wasn’t willing to “pay me what I was worth,” I would move to one that was willing! That was a shallow understanding of my call to ministry and God’s work of provision.
When a pastor moves every 3 to 5 years, the congregation begins to look at him/her as simply a “hireling” and the pastoral authority diminishes. Now I don’t say this because I feel that a pastor needs to be the “ultimate” authority (especially since we all know that God is the ultimate authority!) Instead, I say this because there is (or should be) a reason that we are called to a particular place. The reason God calls us to a certain congregation is for the strengthening of His kingdom. As pastors, we have a responsibility to shepherd the people of God in both the easy times and the tough times. What good is a shepherd to the sheep, if the shepherd runs away when the sheep are in trouble? If the shepherd stays when the grazing is good and the dangers are non-existent, but flees at the first sign of trouble, he/she really isn’t much of a shepherd. Jesus told us that the shepherd will give up his life for the sheep. It is time for pastors to again take up the challenge—to be willing to lay down our lives for our congregations. It is only when we as pastors have the best interest of our congregations (and not our own personal interests) at the forefront that we will truly be the “shepherds” the Word of God calls us to be. How about it? Are you ready and willing to take this challenge? I believe that as pastors, if we are not ready to do this, then we are doing a disservice to God and our congregations!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Small Strong Churches

It seems that in America we equate strength with size. If you serve a congregation that has less than 100 members, you must be working with a “weak” or “dying” church. Now there are small churches that are weak and dying, but it is my belief that there are many small congregations that are strong and vibrant. What sets these congregations apart is that they focus on their strengths and not simply on “numbers.” Congregations that focus on numbers fail to concern themselves with people. Focusing on size for its own sake is unhealthy. When a congregation instead focuses on its strengths, the future is bright! It is important for small congregations to focus on the strengths they have and not the ones they wish they had! So, the question is, “What do small, strong congregations have going for them that makes them strong?” I feel the biggest thing that a small congregation brings to the party is the sense of community. In a large congregation it is possible to worship anonymously and never get totally involved in the work of the church. When a new person walks into a church of hundreds (or in some places even thousands) of people they are likely to go unnoticed by most people in attendance. When a new person (or family) walks into a congregation of 50-100 people, EVERYONE knows that they are there! This makes the invitation into community more important to the smaller congregation. People go to the larger congregation to be anonymous, but people come to the small church to be a part of the community. Therefore, it is imperative for the small church to be a welcoming church. When new people come in, do the greeters not only welcome them, but introduce them to others that they are seated next to? Are they invited to a fellowship time? Are they helped to find where the rest rooms and class rooms are? Hospitality and a true welcoming spirit is more than just a hearty handshake—it is caring enough for the visitor to make them feel not only welcome, but comfortable in their new surroundings!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

About Squirrels

I saw a YouTube video today of a squirrel delaying a major league baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox ( It reminded me of the Ray Steven’s song “Mississippi Squirrel Revival.” I trust everyone has heard it, but If not, you need to find a copy of it and listen to it! Too often, like the people in the song, we get a bit self righteous in our own churches. We believe that we are “perfect” and look down at those who are not like us. What most churches need is what the song calls, “It was a fight for survival that broke out in revival.” When congregations are worried about just surviving, they are afraid to do the things that the Lord calls them to do. They begin to look for ways to “keep the doors open” rather than ways to take the gospel into the world. When a church enters the survival mode, the true work of the church is compromised. Money that should be dedicated to reaching out with the gospel is jealously clung to in order to make sure the bills will be paid. Don’t get me wrong, paying our bills is important! But if we are more worried about paying the electric bill than we are about reaching the lost, we have lost the true vision of what God has called us to be and to do. A congregation in survival mode is a congregation that needs revival. We need to change our thinking. We have to move from survival to revival thinking! How can we do that? I think it is time for the Lord to set loose a legion of squirrels in our churches!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

the improvisational cook (part three)

I continue to find inspiration in this cookbook, both for my kitchen and for my life as a pastor! As the author was explaining how to determine what flavors go together, she gave a wonderfully simple principle: What grows together, goes together! This means combining foods from the same growing region/or season is a principle you can rely on and you will rarely go wrong. For the chef, that means that strawberries and rhubarb which arrive together in the spring are a classic combination for pies tarts, and cobblers. This principle holds true for regions as well. The rich spicy cuisine of Louisiana reflects the French and Creole influences on local ingredients, such as crayfish (or crawdads where I grew up!), shrimp, and oysters. What grows together, goes together is true for the church as well. For true Fusion to take place in a congregation, EVERYONE has to continue to grow. As we all grow together, we all go together! One of the dangers that we face as “mature” Christians is to think that we have all the answers—that we can “stand pat” and everything will be just great. First of all, we need to look at Paul who told us, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” If Paul had to keep on pressing on, so do we! But more importantly, as we grow (in the Lord) together, we build up common ground to keep us together in difficult times and circumstances (and life is full of both of those). So, I urge you, brothers and sister, pastors and lay people, grow together so that when the tough times come, we will be able to go together!

Friday, September 5, 2008

the improvisational cook (part two)

For those of you who are still wondering about yesterday’s post, I think it is time to “get Biblical” on ya! Remember Peter? He was minding his own business, a little hungry, and up on the roof praying. Peter goes into a trance and the Lord speaks to him not once, not twice, but three times in a vision. Peter was hungry and the vision told him to, “Kill, and eat!” food that was not kosher! Peter, being Peter, said, “Certainly not, Lord, for I have never eaten anything defiled or ritually unclean!” Three times the Lord shares this vision with Peter—then as he awakes from his trance men come to his door from a Gentile centurion named Cornelius. Peter was still trying to figure out the vision when the Spirit tells him, “Look! Three men are looking for you. But get up, go down, and accompany them without hesitation, because I have sent them.” Peter does go and ends up baptizing Cornelius and his whole household (even though they were Gentiles!). You know the rest of the story; Peter had to deal the Jewish Christians who felt Gentiles needed to be circumcised BEFORE they could become truly Christian. We need to learn from this story. Peter (with the Spirit’s direction) was improvisational. He allowed the Spirit to lead him where no one had gone before—allowing Gentiles to become Christians without becoming Jewish first! What does this story mean to us today? I believe that it means we need to be aware of the Spirit’s call and leading in our ministry and not to allow those who would belittle or challenge us to keep us from “doing what is right.” It is time for pastors, indeed ALL Christians to be attuned to the Spirit’s leading and not be chained to our preconceived notions as to how we can “do ministry” in our various communities!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

the improvisational cook

People who know me, know that I LOVE to cook. If you stopped by the Manse, you would notice a bookshelf in the kitchen with five shelves of cookbooks and cooking magazines! I know that I will never cook everything in all of those books, yet, what did I do yesterday? I bought five more cookbooks and two cooking magazines! One of those cookbooks is called “the improvisational cook.” As I was reading it last night (yes I actually read cookbooks and I don’t just use them to “find” recipes!) I realized that this cookbook had great information for every congregation—and not just for the next potluck!
The author states,
“Improvisational cooking is thrilling. It’s the key to ease and pleasure in cooking, freedom from recipes and set lists of ingredients, and liberation from other less tangible constraints: perfectionism, the voices of “I can’t,” fear of what will happen and maybe go wrong…Improvisational cooking demands that you shift your thinking, or at least temporarily put rigid notions and fears aside. This is true learning: gaining information and, more often than not, successes from being willing to make mistakes and a mess or two. Often what inhibits people from doing this is that they worry about what everyone else—their guests or family members or the omnipresent ghosts of stylish media cooks—will think of them if what they serve is not “perfect” or deviates from some other unrealistic standard.”

Can you see the application to the church? Fusion is all about being willing to take risks—"we’ve never done it that way before" is thrown out the window and instead a “why not?” takes its place. Too many times pastors are afraid to go with the Spirit because they are afraid of what their congregation, Session, or other pastors might think. That inhibits the Spirit’s work in our ministry! We need to realize the thrill of improvisation in our ministry. When we allow the Spirit to flow through us and our congregation, we have the freedom to explore new things. Don’t get me wrong—I know that this can be messy and sometimes it may even mean we try things that don’t work. We need to take that risk! If we continue to do the same things week after week, year after year, how can we expect different results than we have had in the past? We can’t! It is time we put the rigid notions of what constitutes “ministry” aside and let the Spirit flow through us and shift our thinking. Yes, there are certain absolutes in our ministries, but even the absolutes can be taught and explored in a more liberating way. It is time to put away our preconceived notions of how we do things and let the Spirit loose!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In the Front Door and Out the Back

One of the interesting elements of church growth (or lack of it) is the amazing amount of people who begin attending, but soon stop. Why is that? It could be that the preaching is not up to their standards. It could be that they don’t like the type of music that is being sung. It could be that they don’t agree with the principles of the congregation (or denomination) as they become more aware of them. But in reality, I believe the main reason that so many people leave “out the back door” is simply because they are never integrated (or fused) into the congregation that they visit. Integration (or fusion) begins with the first visit. Are they heartily welcomed? Are they introduced to those they are worshiping near? Are they told of other events and study times available to them? Are they given the opportunity to learn more about the congregation? I’m afraid that all too often the answer to all of these previous questions is a resounding, “No!” While some people seek out a place where they can worship “anonymously,” most are actually looking for a place that they can call their church “home.” This is especially true of the smaller congregation. When you have someone stay at your house, do you expect them to find everything on their own? I doubt it! Instead, you show them where the clean towels are kept, you explain any “quirks” in the TV remote, and you do everything in your power to make them feel like they are “part of the family.” While we respect the privacy of guests in our home, we make sure that they feel welcome and are included in whatever is happening. If we have a cookout, we don’t send them to the local diner while we eat! If we decide to watch a movie, we include them in the process of deciding what we are going to watch. Unfortunately, we don’t always treat our church guests with the same amount of respect and compassion. We expect them to “fit in” and to “just know” what is going on in our church and for them to simply join in. That is not the picture of hospitality that the church needs to show visitors. If we truly want to have our visitors become regular attenders and eventually members, we need to get to know them! How can we best fuse new people with the current members if we don’t truly “know” them? The simple answer is that we can’t. As new people come into our fellowship, it is imperative that we get to know them—What do they like to do? What are their hobbies? What are their God-given talents? Only when we actually get to know these new people who come to our worship services, can we begin to “fuse” them into the body, for their benefit and ours!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Confused about Fusion?

Fusion is a part of life. We just don’t often take the time to realize this fact. We fall in love, we get married, a fusion is born! The activities we participated in as a single person may or may not remain after we are married. New activities begin to fill the void created when we “became one” with another person. Because we love our spouse, we will change (or at least tweak) our interests. For example, my wife didn’t really care about University of Kentucky basketball until we were married. Now we watch those games together. I didn’t drink beer, but now we are always on the lookout for a new microbrewery to try out! We have both changed. That is really what fusion is all about—adjusting to a new set of circumstances. If a church has a new member that God has blessed with talents that are new to the congregation, fusion is ready to happen! Maybe that new person plays the guitar—this would provide a wonderful addition to a worship service (if fusion is allowed to happen.) Perhaps the new person is a gourmet chef—can you see the possibilities for your next congregational meal?!? Now just because a person has a unique talent, doesn’t always mean that fusion will take place, but it is a catalyst for the opportunity to change. Too often, we simply do our best to make the new person’s talents fit our existing programs rather than letting their talents expand our programs! A Fused Pastor will do his or her best to make sure that everyone’s talents will be used in the best interests of the Kingdom. Think about it, are there people in your congregation that are not using their God-given talents in the Lord’s service? Is that their fault or the Pastor’s? I pray that the Lord keeps me open (and all Pastors) to the wonderful opportunities that each person brings with them. What a shame it would be to waste a God-given talent because we don’t take the time to find a way to fuse them into our congregations!