I Preached At An Old Church

I Preached At An Old Church

A few weeks ago, I preached at an old church.

How old? 202!

Founded in 1813, The Sartinville United Methodist Church in Jayess, Mississippi, was having its 202nd Homecoming and they invited me to preach.

To get there, you have to know where you are going. It is well off the beaten path, miles from the nearest interstate, and not quite on the way to anywhere.

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Hell on Earth

Hell on Earth

I think the best description of hell comes from C. S. Lewis’s image in The Great Divorce. He imagines hell as a flat gray plain where people are forever moving away from one another. All the behaviors that find their final resting place in hell are those that separate humans.

Sometimes in the church, among the people of God, we perfect the art of hell.  When we develop our camps, we move people from a larger, messy group into tighter, agreeing groups: Hymn-loving singers here; new song lovers over there. Liberals who like Obama and his healthcare plan over here; conservatives who hate the same over there. Southerners who prefer to see the rebel flag here; everybody else over there. Tithers here; cheapskates over there. Rainbow folk here; nice but not-budging-on-marriage folk over there.

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Trust

Trust

The essence of biblical covenant relationships is found in the Hebrew word, chesed. When people enter covenant, chesed—which is often translated as “loving-kindness” or “steadfast love”—is established between them. Trust is implicit to the covenant relationship and suggests that we intend to behave in certain faithful ways toward each other while expecting the same in return. The beginning assumption is peace, not conflict; trust, not suspicion.

The church today needs a greater degree of trust in at least three different areas.

Generational Trust

An older generation needs to trust the missional spirit of a younger generation as they seek to reach their changing world. The pessimism about the younger generation is not valid. Our youth are in touch with the same God who found us early in our lives and dreamed through us the church as it became under our leadership.

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Grandstanding

Grandstanding

Grandstanding is a ploy that reminds people of their fear while reassuring them that the one using this tactic is their savior from this fear.

It makes speeches that appeal to the lowest common denominator in the crowd—our joint fear. It repeats time-tested clichés. It casts doubts about anything “new” because the “old” is always more dependable. It is closed to new viewpoints from the outside. It sweeps issues under the rug with generalizations. It seeks to appear conservative while actually being more in keeping with the ways of the world. It postures itself as the safe position. It even quotes Scripture.

This may be the bad yeast that has gotten into the pulpit of our day. If a pastor wants to solidify support, grandstanding is the surest route to popular acclaim. Just tell the congregation members exactly what they want to hear, relieve their fears, castigate all dissenting opinions, and secure them in a religious bubble. Salary increases will certainly follow.

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Heaven In Their Heart

Heaven In Their Heart

The church I grew up in was known as “a holiness church.” We didn’t handle snakes, speak in tongues, or cast out many demons—but we had our own brand of odd.

There was a lady who requested prayer on Wednesday nights for soap opera characters, going into great detail about the trouble they were facing. There was the man who brought his guitar to church and sat on the front row, hoping to be asked to play a special number. He was better than the rejects of “American Idol” ever thought about being. We had a Sunday school superintendent who thought we could improve Sunday school attendance by hosting a chitlin’ fry following church. (If you don’t know what part of the animal you’d be eating, don’t ask.)

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Letters to Churches

Letters to Churches

A man was stranded alone on a desert island. Years passed before he was rescued. During this time he built three buildings. His rescuers asked what they were. Pointing to the first he said, “That’s my home, where I live.” Pointing to the second, “That’s the church where I worship each Sunday. I’m a religious person.” When asked about the third building, he replied, “That’s the church I used to attend.”

Church—for many the word does not evoke feelings of deep commitment or devotion. Like grocery stores and telephone companies, we will switch in a flash for a better deal.

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God’s No Stranger to Small

God’s No Stranger to Small

In my last post, I left you with this question:

Is it possible that the church of Jesus, in cultural exile today, has done the same thing? Shrunk her vision to returning to Yesteryear, to getting back to the culture of yesterday, recovering all that we have lost?

I say yes and here’s my explanation.

I was at a gathering of pastors who were invited to share the most exciting thing that had happened in their congregation the previous year. Many shared about transformation in the lives of people and ministries having an impact on their community. One pastor shared that his congregation had broken the Guinness World Record for the longest banana split. God had, he told us, provided a good price on bananas and ice cream. Maybe it was a community outreach or a morale booster for the church, but I could not help thinking about the Servant of the Lord. Given the mission of lighting up the world with the message of Jesus, why are we looking for bargains on bananas? The saddest thing is that this probably was the most exciting thing that happened in that church that year.

Has the church of Jesus become narrowly narcissistic? Do we even see the dark world around us and speak into it with the confidence of the Servant of the Lord that our news is worth sitting up and paying attention to? Or are we people who gather in our churches and care mostly about ourselves?

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3 Types of Churches—How to Choose a Church

3 Types of Churches—How to Choose a Church

Choosing a church is no easy task. In Nashville where I live, more than 1000 churches from a plethora of denominations hold weekly services, serve their neighborhoods, and offer fellowship opportunities.

While some people may base their church membership decisions on the style of worship or the senior pastor’s likability, I encourage you to consider more serious criteria as you choose a church.

I believe all churches fall into one of three categories. Where do you see your church in the following descriptions?

Safe Church

At Safe Church, Safe Pastor finds the middle of the road and stays in it.

You will not have any of your thoughts challenged. You will hear from the pulpit what you already think. The radical kingdom of God will be domesticated to fit your cultural prejudice and your convenient, uncomplicated lifestyle. The infusion of new ideas from science, politics, immigrants, minorities, or education will not be welcomed.

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