The Wheels on the Bus

A recent guest speaker at our church said something that pretty well summarized the ebb and flow of church commitment these days in the United States.  He said the local church was like a bus with people constantly getting on and people getting off.  His statement was designed to encourage churches and leaders about the commonality of the experience across the nation.  It got me thinking about why people, in this day where “I” is at the center of everything from our portable devices to our political theory, so willingly get off the bus God supposedly told them to get on.

Before I get the usual “the church hurt me” or “the church is unhealthy” routine, I concede up front that there are abusive churches and leaders, and church leaders and churches that are unhealthy.  I’m not suggesting that anyone should stay on the bus in that kind of environment. The fact is, however, church leaders and churches can do 1000 things right, and the first time they do something wrong or disagreeable to the bus rider, the rider gets off the bus citing abuse or a lack of love.  The fact is buses are no more or less dysfunctional than the people who ride on them.  Churches and church leaders are not abusive merely by virtue of doing their God-ordained teaching, leading, guiding, and decision-making.  Most of the getting on and off has little to do with the spiritual health of leaders or churches, and everything to do with a fatal flaw in the spiritual formation of modern American Christians: “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). This standard is for the driver and rider alike.

American believers get off the bus God told them to get on for a variety of reasons. Some simply do not like the direction the bus is going and they want to do the driving. They seem to forget that the church must operate form the perspective of the uni-vision (one vision), rather than omni-vision (all vision) or di-vision (two visions).  Many ride until they decide they have a better idea where the bus should be going. Others get off because they can’t sit where they want to sit, meaning they don’t get to do what they want to do or when they want to do it. Still others get off because they don’t like the rules on the bus.  Even though every segment of society has rules of operation and expectation for participation, some believers think the local church should be devoid of rules and guidelines.  Some choose to live at odds with the Scriptural standard and morality and hop off implying the church was somehow judging them when the rider, by virtue of jumping off, was the one doing the rejecting. Still others are seduced off the bus by the lusts in life and agendas inspired by pride. Some fall out with other riders and just want to get away from the conflict instead of applying biblical principles to the issue.  Some look outside and see a shinier bus passing them up with its perception of relevancy, innovation, or higher understanding. Many believers just want to ride the latest fad bus, or they erroneously conclude they are now too spiritual for their drivers and fellow riders, not realizing faithfulness is a much greater mark of authentic spirituality than one’s revelation level.  Of course, some jump off the bus simply because friends or others got off the bus. Finally, some just flat don’t like the driver. With all the analysis, statistics, new paradigms and models, and church growth methodologies, at the end of the day, right or wrong, so many riders get on and off based on the likeabilty of the driver.

As church leaders (drivers), we have to keep our perspective in this generation of bus hoppers.  We need to remember to keep on moving down the road resisting the temptation to park the bus because some folks got off.  It can be difficult not to become paralyzed with discouragement when it seems the people you did the most for and developed the most are the very ones who will jump off the bus. It’s to your credit that you, despite often being thrown under the bus, are not the one doing so to others.  Our priority needs to be picking up new people along the way instead of constantly pining over and grieving over the ones who jumped off.  We also need to follow the route assigned to us staying true to the God-given vision and mission of the house.  The integrity of the vision is not always authenticated by the number of people on the bus, but in the fidelity to the direction of the Lord. Finally, our focus needs to be on getting the riders who faithfully ride with us month after month, and year after year to their destination, instead of being defeated by those who got off.  Too often we as spiritual leaders teach and preach to bus riders who aren’t even on the bus instead of helping the faithful in their journey of discovering divine purpose, Christian maturity, and development.

 

 

 

A Chance and Hope for Change

Hope Harbor Church just completed the final performance of The Gospel According Scrooge. The three night outreach and ministry resulted in nearly 100 decisions for Jesus Christ. I am praising God for the investment of time, energy, and love from the cast, crew, and leadership team, and for His very strong and obvious anointing and blessing on the outreach. This team of volunteers spent literally hundreds of hours in preparation, rehearsals, set building, and promotion. I know that the Lord is pleased and the angels in heaven are rejoicing in the presence of the Father for the souls that have been added to the Kingdom. When all is said and done and we are standing in eternity with the one that bought us all with His blood, the only thing that will matter is what we have done to reach the unreached and tell the untold. We will, of course, take nothing else with us into glory. Thank you all for your part in bringing the hope of a fresh start to many hearts the past three nights.

I also praise God for the successful launch of our new live internet streaming platform that allowed us to broadcast the production live over the web. The internet broadcast was viewed this evening alone by over 300 people including viewers outside of the United States. Technology truly is amazing and the ability to leverage it to spread the gospel locally, nationally, and globally is the greatest possible use of it. With this tool we will begin to broadcast, with excellence, all regular services and share the life-changing, uncompromising Word of God with all that happen to make their way to our site.

I want to say a special “thank you” to Production Director, John Barrett, Choreography Director, Sue Barrett, Drama Director Becky Lile, the cast, the crew, and the hospitality team for their efforts in making Scrooge the most powerful and effective evangelistic Christmas production we have ever had. Jacob Marley, the fictional business partner in Dickens’ classic short story, comes to Scrooge offering a chance and hope for change. Tonight, many people accepted God’s offer for change and a fresh start. Our prayers are with the many who have accepted Christ or rededicated their lives to him. Jeremiah 29:11 promises that the Lord has a bright future for all of them, and for all of us.

As you head toward the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let me exhort you to mindful of the hurt that hides behind many smiles today. Take this message of a changed life through Jesus wherever you go and be extra aggressive to tell people during this season the reason for the hope that is within you. Let us also be mindful that all of us can be a bit “Scrooge-like” in our attitude and demeanor rather than walking in love, kindness, and patience. Decide each day to let the joy of the Lord warm your heart and let the love of God guide your words, actions, thoughts, and attitudes.

Stack the Bench

Albert Pujols

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning…” (Luke 12:35, NIV).

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the St. Louis Cardinals opening home game with Tim and Kelli (she’s the greatest baseball fan in the world…wink, wink). It is often said when it comes to baseball openers that nobody does it like the Cardinals, a team with more World Series Championships (ten) than any other team in the National League and second only to the Yankees overall. The festive atmosphere featured the return of hall of fame ball players and championship team members from past Cardinal rosters including the legendary Stan Musial, the coaching staff, current team members, and the game starting lineup all entering the stadium standing in a fleet of pickup trucks (no chariots available I guess). The standing room only crowd enjoyed the baseball food fair, opening day giveaways, prancing majestic Clydesdales, a demonstration by a trained American Bald Eagle, and a fly over by two A-10¬†aircraft during the National Anthem. The family friendly atmosphere drew thousands of kids to the park with their parents. Two twin boys sitting in front of us held up a sign that read, “We’re Ten today – Go Cards!” They did their best to catch the attention of television cameras (they might have for all I know). It was a one of a kind day for a one of a kind baseball organization.

But the real draw to the park is of course the team and the game. The Cardinals have already taken a commanding lead in the National League Central Division and were poised to stomp (and did stomp) the last place Houston Astros (the only team in baseball without a win yet this year). The Cardinal pitching staff including Cy Young contenders Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright is strong. The batting lineup features six regular players any of which can ruin a pitchers day and wipe away any lead the opposing team might have at the time. One swing of the bat by arguably the greatest player of all time (and a great role model) Albert Pujols and the Cards will score usually several runs (like his three run shot during the game). Opposing teams will sometimes opt to pitch around Pujols or walk him intentionally. The problem with that decision is that the pitcher now has to face Matt Holliday, one of the greatest hitters in the game. If that were not enough of a threat, you can usually count on catcher Yadier Molina to hit and at times knock one over the fence. Scrappy young Cardinal outfielder Colby Rasmus will find a way to get on base and score some runs (not to mention make some amazing plays in centerfield). Leadoff man and second baseman Skip Schumaker (converted from the outfield) can rip a double or triple when you most need him to do so. Outfielder Ryan Ludwick is always a threat when he picks up the bat. If the team stays healthy (especially the pitching staff), the 2010 St. Louis Cardinals are going to be the team to beat.

What’s interesting to me from a spiritual standpoint (I hear you saying to yourself, “you mean you can actually draw something spiritual from baseball?” – yes I can) is the depth of the Cardinal bench. If a hitter is having a bad day someone else will come in and take up the slack. Where most teams may only have a clutch hitter or two in the lineup, the Cards have a half-dozen guys that can crank out a game turning or game winning hit. The church needs to deepen the bench when it comes to our ministry service for the Lord. Everyone needs to be in shape, trained, dressed for service, and prepared to step in and make the play or hit the ball. Too often, the entire weight of the ministry is upon a few staff members, lay leaders, or committed volunteers. The deeper the ministry service bench is, the more likely we will score some runs for the Kingdom.

In retrospect, if the Cards lose a game or even throw away the season it’s no big deal really (did I really just say that?), but if the church fails to produce eternal souls are on the line. The ability of the believer to walk in victory is on the line. The fulfillment of our destiny and purpose as believers is on the line. Pleasing our Lord and Savior who certainly put on the jersey, showed up to the game, and knocked it out of the park for our benefit is on the line. Let’s all get in shape, dress for the game, be ready, stay anointed, and snap to it when he calls our number for service. It’s time for everyone in the body of Christ to get in the game.