Saturday, June 21, 2014

Criticism, America's new favorite past time

It seems that with every new technology of communication we create, there comes with it a surge of griping, complaining, and criticism. From the printing press, to the CB radio, to the internet, if it allows our voice to be heard, somebody uses it to tear down others rather than for creation. It seems as if people love and enjoy the acts of complaining and criticism. A tendency that even some in the church follow. The question is should the church follow the world's lead on this one when dealing with contrary ideas? Well what if I told you that complaining and criticism is a product of the sinful nature of the flesh? In Galatians 5, Paul lists 15 different products of the fleshly sin nature, and just over half can be tied to criticism and complaining. (They are all listed and asterisked below) Even the sexual sin, that the church is so quick to condemn does not have that many asterisks. Not that I'm trying to marginalize sexual sin in any way, just put things in perspective. If sexual sin is serious, then complaining and criticism should be thought of as just as serious, if not more.  

1. Sexual immorality
2. Impurity 
3. Debauchery
4. Idolatry
5. Witchcraft 
6. Hatred*
7. Discord*
8. Jealousy*
9. Fits of rage*
10. Selfish ambition*
11. Dissensions*
12. Factions*
13. Envy*
14. Drunkenness
15. Orgies 

Hatred, criticism and complaining often manifests itself as hate. 
Discord, or disagreements often comes with criticism and complaining. 
Jealousy, those who are jealous often use complains and criticism to get even with those for whom their jealousy is directed.
Fits of rage, often contain rants of criticism and complaints.    
Selfish ambition, can lead one to use destructive force to eliminate the competition, including criticism and complaints. 
Dissensions, typically involve complaints and criticism.
Factions, frequently revolve around peoples complaints and criticisms of one another.
Envy, Do you know what the difference between jealousy and envy is? Jealousy wants what the other has for themselves. Envy want to destroy what the other has so that nobody can have it. Even if it's only done with words. 

Well it's no wonder people love to complain and criticize so much, it's potentially more seductive than sex. Yet even some in the church have heinously rationalized this particular sin. It's no wonder Jesus wanted us to correct in love rather than judgment, to do otherwise is just plain evil. Yet there are ministry's (Which I will not name) that seem to revolve around criticizing opposing view points in an unloving way, including other ministries. It's very had to reveal the good news of the gospel, when we are constantly casting it in such a negative light.   

If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 
-Galatians 5:15

2 people criticizing one another
a common tactic used by the aggressive and the passive aggressive 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Parable of the lone pastor

   "I move that we adjourn." Steven said after a long arduous church board meeting.
   "Actually, I had one more thing to request." Said pastor.
   "Will it take long?" Diane said as she looked at her watch.
   "Not at all, I was just wondering if it would be all right if I put in a garden at the parsonage."
   "Where do you propose putting this garden?" Tom said thinking there was no room for such a thing.
   "Just north of the parsonage."
   "That has always been used as a playground area for the church." Tom said as if the idea were out the question.
   "There are no children to speak of in this aging congregation, just the occasional visiting grandchild."
   "I would assume not close that door." Said Steven. "I would be more comfortable if you used the plot of land just east of the parsonage."
   "I agree with Steven, I would approve such an action if you used that unused land to the east." Diane said fearing that The congregation would object if the land to the north was disturbed.
   "But that plot is so small and rocky, it will take twice as much effort to make a garden half as big."
   "Perhaps, but I see it as the only way of ensuring that we don't upset anybody." Tom said looking over his glasses.
   "Very well, I will agree to use the ground to the east instead."
   "Good, I move that we allow the pastor to plant a garden to the east of the parsonage, as well as adjourn this meeting. All in favor say ai." Tom said anticipating an end to this drawn out meeting at last.
   Everyone does just that.
   "So does anybody want to help me till some soil this Saturday?" Pastor said as he looked each one in the eye, one by one.
   "I have a ball game to go to." Said Steven.
   "That's my day to play bridge." Said Diane.
   "I have other plans myself." Said Tom.
   "Very well, I guess I will have to ask somebody else."

   And pastor did ask somebody else. In fact, he asked many other people within the church. However, he had absolutely no takers. So he'd ended up preparing the ground all by himself. As it turns out the soil to the east of the parsonage was far worse than he had anticipated, for the rocks were plentiful, and the good soil sparse. But with much effort and tenacity he was able to prepare a usable plot in which to plant a garden. It turned out much smaller than he was hoping, but it would have to do for this year, for he had no more time to spare before planting season. 

   As pastor returned from lunch Tuesday afternoon to finish out his office hours, he found Diane was there waiting for him.
   "Well hello Diane, what brings you here?"
   "I had an idea; I wanted to discuss with you."
   "What would that be?" Pastor said as he unlocked his office.
   "My sister was telling me about this curriculum that her church centered a small group around." Diane said as she handed pastor a book. "I think it would be a good idea if we do the same."
   Pastor eyed the book as he took a seat at his desk, and Diane continued to sell the idea. 
   "Everyone has been going on about improving attendance; I think this could help immensely." 
   "It's been my experience that it's what we do every day, not the special programs that we do that makes a church attractive. But, If you want to start a group on this, go ahead."
   "That is what I am doing." Diane said with wide eyes.
   "You have my blessing, what more do you need?"
   "Someone to facilitate."
   "You mean you weren't planning on doing that yourself."
   "Well no." Diane said as if the idea were absurd. "I want to be able to be part of said group, not lead it."
   "Might I suggest Bill or Susan then."
   "I'm asking YOU." Diane said putting emphasis on the word you.
   "I'm already heading up two groups right now, and barely keeping up as it is."
   "I really do think people would be more likely to come if YOU headed it up." Diane said emphasizing the word you again. 
   "Perhaps, after I am done with one of the current studies I am doing."
   "How long will that be?"
   "Six weeks for the Thursday evening group. Four weeks for the Sunday morning one."
   "I really don't want to wait six weeks, and I don't like getting up that early on Sundays. Couldn't we start something on Monday evenings, that's a good day for me."
   "Not for me that is my day off." 
   "Tuesday then."
   "Very well." Pastor said, already regretting it.
   "Great, how soon can we start?"
   "We will need a few weeks to get the word out."
   "Three weeks from tonight then."
   "I will get it into the bulletin next Sunday." Pastor said as he jotted down a note.
   "Thank you so much, I owe you one."
   "Well I'm going to be planting my garden this afternoon, could I count on you for help?"
   "Uh. . . I don't think I can make it."
   "Very well, I guess I will see you next Sunday then."

   So pastor planted his seeds all by himself. He was very tired after a hard days work, of planting as well as other church business. He would have loved to just go home and relax. However, he had a new small group to familiarize himself with. So he made additional time for his church.

   About one month later, pastor shows up Tuesday morning to put in his office hours like normal to find that Tom was already waiting for him. 
   "What can I do for you Tom?" Pastor said as he looked for his office key.
   "I have an idea I would like for you to put into motion."
   "What is that?"
   "A second early morning service on Sunday." Tom said as he had a seat in front of pastor’s desk.
   "Why do that?"
   "I myself would prefer an early morning service.  As do many others my age. Having one might bring back some of our inactive members. Obviously, we need to do something about attendance."
   "Perhaps that might work."
   "If we could get our numbers back to what they were during the days we had two services that would certainly be a good thing."
   "I wasn't aware that we ever had two services."
  "It was before you came here, when pastor Harrison was here."
   "Wasn't Harrison two pastors ago?"
   "Well yes."
   "Well, why was it eliminated before?"
   "I don't know, pastor Harrison just stopped doing it."
   "Come on now Tom. If I eliminated something that you liked, you would be the first to ask why."
   "Well I guess it was because he thought there wasn't enough interest in it anymore to justify a second service." 
   "Well obviously the good numbers from the past wasn't just because of the early service. So what makes you think now will be any different?"
   "I've been talking to people about it, I'm sure we would have at least twelve who would like to have that once again."
   "Like who?" Pastor said out of curiosity.
   "Bill, Susan, Steve, Diane...."
   "Diane will definitely not come." Pastor said cutting off Tom.
   "She told me should would."
   "Well she told me she didn't like to get up that early on Sunday to go to Sunday school. So it's unlikely she would get up earlier than that to go to early service."
   "What are you saying?"
   "That some of these people are just telling you what you want to hear."
   "So you won't even consider it then?" Tom said with an accusatory tone. 
   "No, I'm not saying that. If I did this it's because early service typically caters to the older crowd, as you already indicated. If we can get the average age of second service down, then that might open us up to try new things that might actually get the younger people to stick."
   "So you will do it then."
   "Perhaps, if you will do your part."
   "What do I have to do besides show up."
   "I'll need somebody to set up and clean up after that service, to make way for second service."
   "No I couldn't do that, I'd miss the early morning news, and part of Sunday school."
   "They repeat news all day, and Sunday school never starts on time."
   "That's just how I like to orchestrate my day, including the fellowship before Sunday school."
   "True commitment and worship requires sacrifice." 
   "Anybody can do that."
   "You are anybody."
   "Don't tell me you aren't going to do this over this one little detail."
   "Board meeting is tomorrow; we will take it up with them, if you can convince them. We will try it for a while."
   "I'm fine with that. I appreciate this pastor. If there is anything, I can do to help."
   "I told you what you could do to help."
   "Anything else."
   "I could use some help weeding my garden."
   "Oh I couldn't do that with my arthritis." 

   Pastor ended up weeding his garden alone. 
   When they took up early service with the board, it was approved with the stipulation that it would only continue if they average at least eight people that first month. Most insisted that they would support it, even Diane.
   As it turned out, the early morning service only averaged four. Apart from Tom himself, he was the only board member there. So after the morning service was eliminated, Tom started to talk about finding another church. He just wasn't going to be part of a church that did not cater to his needs by offering an early morning service.

   The next Monday after the last early morning service, Pastor sat at home alone. As reluctant as he was to start that early morning service, he still had high hopes for it. He hoped that it would lead to a more diverse church, but he just couldn't make it happen all by himself.
     Over all this wasn't what he thought the life of a pastor would be like. It seemed like every Monday he contemplated leaving the ministry. But so far, vision always trumped results. Calling always superseded ego. So he always pressed on another week. However, he feared that there would come a day that would change. That he would just lose heart.

   Around eleven someone came knocking on his door.  It was Steven. 
   "Well here you are." Said Steve. "Why aren't you in your office?"
   "Monday is my day off."
   "Since when?"
   "Since the three pastors before me."
   "Surly not." Steve said in disbelief. 
   "I assure you it's a ministerial staple to take Monday off these days, but surely you did not come to discuss my office hours." Pastor said to get off this futile subject, since he had actually had the exact same conversation with Steve once already.
   "Actually, I came to discuss Sunday worship."
   "What about it?"
   "Lately your sermons have been going a little long."
   "I think it best that you make sure that we end by noon, every Sunday."
   "It's rarely ever over five or ten minutes." Pastor said in defense. 
   "True, but many of us go out to eat on Sundays. The restaurants fill up quickly at that time. Sometimes it's hard to get a good table when you go over."
   "You know, in ancient days the Sabbath did not end precisely at noon, or last a mere hour and forty-five minutes. It was an all day thing."
   "You're point being?"
   "I thought it quite obvious." Pastor said trying to hide his irritation. 
   "Let me add a point of my own then." Steve said.  "Attendance seems to be an issue that keeps coming up, obviously we need to do more to make the congregation happy.  I believe this detail will be a step in the right direction of doing that."
   Pastor wanted to say that catering to minimally devoted always seemed to boost attendance, but he refrained from stooping to such a sarcastic jab. 
   "I will take your request into consideration. Is there anything else?" Pastor said hoping there was nothing else.
   "Not that I can think of."
   "I was about to do some work in my garden, would you care to stick around and help. Perhaps we can discuss the purpose of the Sabbath while we work on my day off."
   "I am far too busy for that today."
   "Have a good day then." 

   Once Steve was gone, pastor felt horrible. Not only was his frustration off the chart, he felt guilty for his impatience with Steve. While it certainly could have gone much worse than it did, he could have handled it much better as well.
   Rather than cater to his garden, pastor got down on his knees to pray to Jesus. To ask him for forgiveness. To ask him for guidance on what to do. To ask for his faltering strength to be renewed. 
   All of a sudden a question appeared in his head. How do you show yourselves as my disciples? The question was so out of nowhere that he felt the need to answer it out loud. 
   "By bearing fruit." Pastor said, even though that was not what he was thinking. He had something much more systematic and theological in mind. Of all the ways he could have responded, this is what God put into his heart. Which begged the question, why did this figurative scripture reference from John 15:8 come to his lips.
   This got pastor thinking.  Did this church live up to this definition of discipleship? All of a sudden he understood what he was being told. He quickly thanked God for this insight, and asked for an opportunity to share this insight.

   The board had gathered once again for the month. Even Tom who had threatened to leave. Apparently, finding a church who still had early morning services was getting quite rare these days. 
   "How is that garden turning out?" Diane asked of pastor before the meeting officially started. 
   "Not too bad."
   "I certainly hope you plan on sharing some of the fruits of your harvest." Steve said.
   "I second that." Tom said.
   "I wouldn't mind that myself." Diane said.
   "I do not have much to share, but in the spirit of God's grace I will share what I can."
   "Why is that?" Tom said. "It seemed as if you worked so hard on it."
   "I did work hard on it, but I worked on it all by myself, with no help from any of you. Much like the harvest that is this church. You all want an abundant harvest of attendees so that it will always be here for you, to feed off of, and serve your needs. Yet, you don't do your part to make that harvest prosper. Just imagine how much more this church would have to share if you all took on the responsibility of this church harvest as a true disciple should, not just demand feeding privileges. How much more would we be blessed by God if you were committed to bearing fruit for The sum total of God's harvest that affects everyone, not just concern yourselves with your share as consumers."
   The room become very quiet. Everyone got the point, and nobody had a thing to say for themselves. 
   "Of course, when we are talking about the harvest of church, a new planting season can begin anytime." Diane finally said.
   "Quite true, and there is no time like now." Tom said. 
   "I would like to start by volunteering to open our meeting with prayer." Steve said.
   "Please do." Said pastor realizing he had his prayer answered. 

The beginning