As part of National Thank-You Week, research revealed that British businesses were split between “thankers” and “thank-nots.” The thankers were those workplace leaders who recognize the importance of appreciating and motivating their employees, and the thank-nots were leaders who neglect to do so. When asked whether they thought bosses were better or worse at saying thank-you now than ten years before, 22 percent of those surveyed thought they had improved but 37 percent felt they had grown worse. Although half (51 percent) of the working population receive a thank-you once a month or more, only slightly fewer—44 percent—receive a thank-you just once every few months or less frequently.
Moira Clark, a professor of strategic marketing, comments,
My own research [reveals] that in high-performing companies, that is, those with high customer retention levels, staff are frequently … thanked. However, in low-performing companies, employees are punished, e.g., ignored or reprimanded, more frequently than they are [thanked].
Looking at the sphere of the Christian church two extreme categories emerge. These two categories stand as polar opposites, each at the other end of the spectrum and neither fulfilling the biblical concept for a church. What are these two categories? What are the characteristics which define them? And how can a church avoid falling into their pitfalls, or, if it already has fallen, how does it get out?
The Trending Church
The first category is the trending church, the church whose sole focus is being hip, cool and relevant to the younger generation, bringing in visitors as fast as it can fill the seats and pulling in the biggest profit. Nothing else matters to this church except keeping up appearances and looking good on paper. If the numbers are up, the church is doing its job; if the guests are having fun, the show’s a success.
So what’s the problem with this? Many people flock to churches like this. After all, if they’re going to invest their time and money into a church, they might as well get the biggest bang for their buck; right? The problem with this kind of church is that its focus isn’t right; its mission is to put on a good show and be at the top of the conference leader board. Many people may enjoy a church like this, but what are they actually gaining from it spiritually? How is it helping them grow? How is it helping them in their walk with Christ? How is it bringing lost souls to the Lord? The limelight is the illumination of the trending church, and the True Light (Jesus) has been switched off.
I once went to what could be called a megachurch. It had a bookstore and a food court. Bookstores and food courts are all well and good unless commercialism is stealing the church’s focus.
When Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem and found people buying and selling in the courts, righteous anger was kindled in His soul. “On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers’” (Mark 11:15-17).
The Unbending Church
The second category is the unbending church. The unbending church thrives on tradition. It has forgotten its mission and lost its zeal. It has settled down into a sedentary life and resists any kind of change with a will of iron, unyielding, unswerving and unbending. The top priorities in this church are upholding traditions and gathering every Sunday for a sermon reiterating things members have already heard and socializing with people they already know. This church is more like an exclusive country club than a church. Members don’t want any newcomers unless the new people fit in with themselves or can bring something to the church by either a pocketbook or prestige, and you could fit their community outreach into my great-grandmother’s thimble.
I once attended a church like this. Members staunchly resisted change, and when newcomers began coming to the church, they didn’t want “those kinds of people.”
One churchgoer even went so far as to drive a child away from the church with her cane when he did something she didn’t like. The majority of this congregation didn’t understand or embrace the true purpose of the Christian church. When Jesus and the disciples ate at Matthew’s home, the Pharisees asked the disciples, “‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Matthew 9:11-13).
As vastly different as these two churches are, they share two similarities.
- They both lack genuine care and fellowship toward newcomers as individuals.
For many people, taking the initiative to form social connections can be difficult and entering a church whose members exhibit no concern for them personally or desire to get to know them as a person can turn them off to the church — perhaps even to Christianity as a whole.
- They both lack purpose and vision, which should be the driving force behind the church.
The Friending Church
So where is the medium between the two extremes? What defines the biblical concept of what a church should be?
Perhaps one of the best ways to become a fruitful church is to embrace the greatest commandment, which Jesus said was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
However, we should also keep in mind that Jesus gave two commandments. “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39).
In accordance with this commandment, we should warmly welcome all who come into our churches and earnestly desire and work toward bringing them to the Lord.
Finally, we come to the mission of the church. Yes, Jesus said that the healthy don’t need a doctor, but the church is for the believer as well as the nonbeliever. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
However, this is not the mission of the church. Matthew 28:19-20 gives us this: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
So to avoid being caught or to pull your church out of the pitfalls of the trending church or the unbending church, the perspective, purpose and vision of the church must be adjusted to meet the principles of the friending church as mentioned above. Then you can begin sowing the seeds of a fruitful church that will, God willing, become a church ripe for the picking.
“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded’” (2 Chronicles 15:7).
Whitney Schwartz is a Michigan-based freelance writer and the author of the devotional book “Grace Like Rain.” Go to youbeblog.wordpress.com for more of her writings.
- If Jesus entered your church today, would He find it a “house of prayer” or a den of materialism and superficiality?
- If we love God with all of our hearts, souls and minds while earnestly striving to follow Him, how will our fruitfulness be affected?
Many years ago, we had a friend whose 18-year-old daughter was going to get a tattoo. She was horrified and was sharing with a few of us at church how embarrassed she felt. An 85-year-old woman heard the mom talking. The next week, this spirited saint came back and showed the mother something. She was sporting a new butterfly tattoo on her left shoulder, demonstrating to the mom that it wouldn’t be the end of the world when her daughter got one.
Years later, this mother unburied some deep trauma from her childhood — trauma that had ransacked her life for years. After years of counseling, deep healing prayer and a difficult journey of recovery, she decided she needed some kind of permanent and visible indication of the change God had brought in her. That’s right; she decided to get a tattoo!
It wasn’t for show or flash or to be a rebel, but rather a tattoo over her heart that was a permanent and visible reminder to her that she was a beautiful child of God and that her heart and life were made and marked by God Himself. Like Communion, it was a visible sign that there was no situation in life that could undo what God had done in her.
In the same way that many cultures use clothing styles or patterns to indicate social position or rank, for thousands of years, Pacific Island culture has used body art as a means to do the same. One is marked as part of a certain tribe or family by a particular pattern, and the patterns are thought to have both spiritual strength and connection to family and tribal stories.
Regardless of what we think and how we feel about tattoos, we all carry markings on our spirits that identify us. These marks may have been left by growing up around an abusive adult in our life, or being surrounded by addictions and dependencies in our families of origin. Sometimes our markings are so obvious that people we meet can see them coming before they can see us. Some of us “wear” those markings like a badge of pride and as a warning that says “don’t mess with me or you’ll get the full blast of what I’m carrying.”
On the other extreme, some of us try very hard to hide the markings we carry. Whether the chip on our shoulder makes us walk with a limp, or our baggage is invisible, they are indicators of our story, our pain or our progress. Sometimes we like to pretend that we have no markings, but it is impossible to grow up in this world and not have our lives marked by our experiences and our environment. These marks are part of what makes us who we are.
As followers of Jesus, we are all marked. The Holy Spirit is a sign and a seal on us, a deposit guaranteeing God’s presence now and in the future, and our identity in Christ. In 2 Corinthians 1:22 and 5:5, God promises to mark us by putting His law in our minds and writing it on our hearts because we are His people (Jeremiah 31:33). In Deuteronomy 6 and 11, God instructs God-followers to fix His words on their hearts, minds and bodies, literally tying them as symbols on hands and foreheads, steering wheels and screensavers (OK, gates and doors — you get the idea though). We are to impress His Word on our children at home and on the road. Jewish tradition even included wearing these passages on tiny scrolls in bracelets and headbands — a constant reminder of who they worshipped and how they lived.
In addition to job training, Homeboy Industries (homeboyindustries.org) in Los Angeles has a clinic for tattoo removal for ex-gang members. Sometimes, if the tattoos are unable to be completely removed, volunteers are able to change them into something different than a gang-related sign, such as a Christian symbol or word. They are putting into practice on the body what God does on our spirit. God is in the business of changing tattoos. God is in the business of re-creating the identity of anyone who asks to be made whole, to be marked as His beloved daughter and beloved son.
A pastor I know has a tattoo on his forearm, which reads “Leviticus 19:28.” He gets asked regularly what verse that is. In the verse, God says, “Do not … put tattoo marks on yourself.” As you might imagine, he has very interesting conversations with Christians and pre-Christians alike about God’s plan to mark us, our freedom in Jesus and biblical interpretation.
“If my parents find out, I’m dead!” A student we coach recently refused to remove his shirt at athletic practice because he didn’t want his parents to know he had a tattoo. May he and each of us be openly marked by God’s Spirit, bringing joy to the Father.
Julie Gray is the senior pastor of Aldersgate Free Methodist Church in Indianapolis. Marvin Gray is Aldersgate’s associate pastor for outreach and youth while also serving as Light + Life Communications’ business sales associate.
- What tattoo(s) do I wear today? What parts of my story mark me? Is it really what I want to be known by?
- In what ways has God marked my life? Do I get asked about my tattoos — about the ways God has marked me? If I did, what would I say?
by Bishop David Roller
In this setting I tell the story about a cousin, sitting in jail, asking Jesus if he’s the One, or if they should keep waiting.
or on Vimeo at:
by Bishop David Kendall
In Exile—literal or not—you weep until there are no more tears; you scream at your oppressors; you vow never to forget; you swear to get even; and you phantasize the satisfaction of the oppressor’s suffering. This range of options stick out like sore thumbs in the song of Lament God’s people sang in Babylon
1 Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem.
2 We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees.
3 For our captors demanded a song from us. Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!”
4 But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a pagan land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget how to play the harp.
6 May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you, if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy.
7 O LORD, remember what the Edomites did on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem. “Destroy it!” they yelled. “Level it to the ground!”
8 O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us.
9 Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!
(Ps. 137:1-9 NLT)
For Israel’s forebears in Exile, weeping came reflexively and convulsively. Their suffering and loss had seemed sudden, total, and irreparable. Persons most dear, places most revered, experiences most sacred—all vanished leaving nothing but pain. What were they to do? (Indeed, what are today’s displaced persons to do?) What are their options beyond the weeping? Or is there nothing beyond thisweeping?
The captor-tormentors urge them to sing one the songs of Zion. Not because they loved music. Not because they loved Zion. No, they hated Zion and the people of Zion, and only wanted to drive their captives deeper into despair.
Their ill will did not escape notice. The faithful cranked their courage and stiffened their resolve. It would be unthinkable to sing the Lord’s song here! Not here and not now, and not for those people. In fact, it would be sacrilege to sing the Lord’ssong here. We will remember the songs at the risk of everything, and dream of the day when we sing them there again, to the accompaniment of our captor’s wailing as they hear the dull thudding of our revenge visited on their little ones.
Today’s Holy Lands witness the same vengeful resolves of captors envisioning the torture of their tormentors. Today’s exiles follow ancient paths and thus chart new courses for future miseries. And, sadly, among them some of Zion’s daughters dwell.
But these are not the only ways possible. The tormentors taunted with insincere prompting to sing one of the songs of Zion, the city of the great King, the city of Yahweh-God. If it should be one of Yahweh’s songs sung, however it began—whether in lament, dirge, taunt, torment—eventually Yahweh’s song becomes a song of worship. For Yahweh’s song turns out to be the song of Another, the song of an altogether Other One, whose ways also are “other.” In time, the song of a Lamb.
If it is Yahweh’s song they sing, where is Yahweh God? Is it only somewhere else, where they no longer are? Or is Yahweh God there too, and everywhere?
If Yahweh is Goo there too … then can’t his song be sung? Even there? Wouldn’t the song be more about Yahweh than them or us, more about what the Lord has done and will do, or might do, than what the Lord didn’t do and hasn’t done? And if Yahweh is God, shouldn’t his song be sung anyway? Can a place or a people nullify this Lordship and prevent his songs from being sung and heard? If Yahweh is God, is any place irreparably pagan? Any place where his songs would be out of place?
Imagine what could happen if exiles longing for “Zion” chose to sing the song of the Lord, especially the song of the Lamb, if they allowed their memories to expand to include all of the past to anticipate all the possibilities of the future, a future not just informed but transformed by the song.
Imagine the Lord reclaiming the place of highest joy, replacing memories of other places and times. Then … the Lord in power and sovereignty turns exile into “home,” so that some exiles remain as resident aliens, and then become ambassadors of another Place. Then … rivers of Babylon become streams of living water, tormentors demanding mirth from the Lord’s songs become curious inquirers when they hear such unnaturally joyful songs. Then … memories of atrocity become doors of awareness and the heinous in us all finds hope for a better way.
Imagine if enemies became friends, all lands became the Lord’s, and the most alluring songs sung were the Lord’s. Imagine if even Edomites became family, if no children anywhere were ever again smashed against rocks, but were everywhere welcomed as kingdom-mentors of a Zion made new.
by Bishop Matthew Thomas
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus expanded living within the law to living as God fully intends us to live in heart and mind as well as in action. His aim seemed to be more about us being whole than being merely right. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism said something similar. “By salvation I mean not barely according to the vulgar notion of deliverance from hell or going to heaven but a present deliverance from sin, a restoration of the soul to its primitive health and its original purity, a recovery of the divine nature and the renewal of our souls after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness in justice, mercy and truth.” To him, being plucked from heaven and having a spot reserved in heaven was not a complete enough aim.
Our lives should be in pursuit of more than physical health, financial gain, or even emotional wellness. God has something far bigger in store for us. His grace is powerful enough to work complex and thorough healing in every area of life. He desires for us to be complete. And, our message to and prayer for others should follow suit. When I pray for the sick, I cannot stop the prayer at the border of physical wellness. When I pray for the emotionally troubled, I dare not stop praying at the border of emotional balance. When I pray for the spiritually depraved, I must continue praying not only for their salvation but for healing in their relationships and their ability to overcome the wounds and consequences of their troubled past by the deep grace of God that is not restricted by boundaries. That is the gospel. Pursue wholeness in Christ. Don’t stop short of that. Seek grace for wholeness. Proclaim the possibility of wholeness to others.
October was a busy month for our preschool! We shared donuts with our dads, learned some moves from a dance instructor, went on nature walks, walked to the Winona Lake Fire Department, explored Anderson’s nursery, and had fall parties.
You could call this a portion of a book review, or you could call this my attempt to bring something more scholarly to this space. Either way, it is likely best described as my acknowledgement that I am not the first, such as Sir Isaac Newton recognized when he said “if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
See, though I know it was not original with me, I began my youth ministry career by repeating that what I do is not about a religion, but about a relationship. At times I imagined it seeped into my brain from some of my youth ministry mentors. But I have been reading In Search of Adolescence: A New Look at an Old Idea by Crystal Kirgiss. Now I see the idea goes back much further.
In this book, Crystal battles the idea that adolescence is a modern day construct. Showing how previous generations dealt with the people we know as teenagers, she proves her point well. At one point she quotes John Greene and Solomon Stoddard, a couple of preachers from the early 1700’s.
“God will have no respect at all to any service that you offer up to him, as long as you withhold your hearts from him…For this, as has been hinted, is the foundation of all religious practice…For while this is neglected, the doing of other things will be to no purpose.” Youth were encouraged not just to attend Sunday services but to live a life of obedience all week long because God is “not only their father’s God, but their God also.” If they learned to worship faithfully now, not because they had to but because they wanted to – because “God has given rational souls to you that you might understandingly praise the Lord” – then it was believed they would continue in the faith and fulfill their spiritual purpose: to glorify God.
(In Search of Adolescence: A New Look at an Old Idea, pgs. 105-106)
I’m hoping that my teens not only recognize this idea, but are encouraged, as I am, by the idea that we are not the first generations enjoying a struggle of seeking out God in a relationship that matters.
This morning as I sit down to type this article for The Earnest Christian, through the window behind my monitor I can see a beautiful, almost florescent tree. God’s creations are showing themselves in the beautiful fall spectacular. It is a color show that those of us that have spent most of our years in the Midwest look forward to on an annual basis. Each year as it begins, I am amazed again at how vibrant the trees become. It is also a sign that in just a few short weeks the leaves will be on the ground and once again the landscape will dramatically change.
This year an unusual happening has occurred in one of the flower beds on the church lawn. An Easter Lily has flowered at a time when most plants are being nipped by the frost and pulling in for the winter. I stopped Sunday night after church and snapped a picture of it. What a beautiful reminder of new life!
I’m not sure what has caused this Lily to get it’s time clock turned in the wrong direction, but I love the symbolism of God making all things new. II Corinthians 5:17 reads, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
It doesn’t matter our season of life. God has the ability to bring something fresh and new into our lives if we make Him the focus of our world. This is the month of Thanksgiving. Let’s work together to focus on what new thing God is doing. Let’s strive to let our thankfulness for His blessings overflow to those around us. Let’s bring the love of God with us wherever we go.
Pastor Paul Parker
A friend of mine loved to play poker. I enjoy playing but always lose. My friend, on the other hand, used to read books and have consistent games with friends. Later, I learned that when he traveled to Vegas for business, he would go into some of the world’s best poker rooms and, more often than not, win. Sometimes he would even win big. Being a skilled poker player is about understanding the odds and reading people. The strong player will pick up on all of the subtle and unconscious gestures of their opponent to identify the cards they are holding. The very best are not only able to read people, but they are able to manage their own behavior in a way that maintains the mystery.
In life, teenagers can be difficult to read. Every day, they perform in a world of adult agendas and judgment. They work really hard at perfecting the outside so everything on the inside can stay hidden where it is safe. There are a precious few they can trust so they develop their poker face. Teenagers have a lot going on under the surface that they either haven’t identified, are afraid to say, or don’t know how to tell you. So it remains inside, alone and unattended. What if we did know? I think it might change the way we parent teens. Here are 5 things your teenagers secretly want you to know but won’t tell you.
1. They want you to say no.
They need your boundaries, but more interestingly, they want them. Giving them clearly defined lines of what is appropriate and what is not creates security for kids. [Tweet This] However, just because they want those boundaries doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to push against them and they will. That’s how they figure out if what you say is true and real. It’s your job to say no, stick to it, and explain to them why that boundary exists. Then you need to respond with consistency, nurturing, and compassion when they step out of bounds. That is also not to say that boundaries never change or widen, particularly as they mature.
2. They are desperate for your approval.
Unless they perceive you as untrustworthy, this is the reason they get so annoyed and roll their eyes at your correcting. For right or wrong, they are feeling your disapproval as a person. It’s a feeling of rejection. I’m not saying to not correct, but having an awareness of how they are receiving your feedback may change how you do it and how often.
3. They want your guidance rather than your expectations.
They want you to walk with them in their pain and discomfort. Teenagers have adults and peers giving them marks to hit all the time. They don’t need you to set a level for them to live up to but rather coach them. It’s the difference of how a football coach responds to a wide receiver who drops an easy pass. He can say, “I expect you to make that catch,” which puts pressure on the wide receiver to perform. In coaching the wide receiver, he might say, “What do think happened on that last play? I think you may have taken your eyes off of the ball. Remember to look the ball in. I know you can do it.” The first is like a parent who says, “I expect you to get good grades, make wise decisions, and do what I say.” It doesn’t give room for failure. A dad who gives guidance will look deeper at his daughter caught drinking and say, “What happened tonight? It seems like you’re lonely and trying anything to fit in. ”
4. They have no idea who they are yet and are scared to death.
Their core self has not developed. They really are several different people. The person they are when they’re with their friends on a Friday night is way different than the person they are at home or in the classroom. That doesn’t mean they are fake, it’s just a person whose different selves haven’t merged into a solid identity yet. The tension they live with is trying to be both a part of themselves (which they don’t know what that is) and what the other person thinks they should be. It’s a confusing and lonely place. They live in fear of disappointing people, namely, you, mom, teachers, coaches, and friends. They’re afraid of spending the rest of their life feeling as alone and misunderstood as they do right now. Be a safe and encouraging place.
5. They are consistently treated with contempt.
If they come across as moody or oversensitive, it is more than just hormonal or a bad attitude. If I made the statement, “There was a group of teenagers at the mall…,” you would expect the rest of that story to be negative. Teens are blamed, belittled, marginalized, and treated with contempt. I’ve seen it personally. They need to be shown respect and compassion. Don’t just react (easily said I know and I am the worst offender), but study what is driving the attitude.