Thursday, August 09, 2007

The church has left the building: The Service/Outreach Projects.

Today’s Dahlia: Glorios.

Faith in Action (FIA) is a joint project between World Vision, Outreach and Zondervan. FIA is a four week, church-wide campaign to help the church focus on mission/ministry outside the walls of the church. Today I am going to talk about service/outreach projects

Our churches have separated themselves from our communities.

Many years ago I served as an intern at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas. HPPC had “adopted” a housing project in a poor part of town. We had all kinds of ministries going on in that housing project. If kids came to study hall a certain number of times they could spend a day with our junior high group for fun, game and food. It was a great experience for the inner city kids and the church kids. The sad part of this story isn’t about HPPC, it is about a church that was just across the street from the housing project. That church had been a neighborhood church—made up of people from that community. As the people turned their lives around they moved out of the area but continued to attend the church. Before long the church built an eight foot tall fence around the church and its grounds. They were trying to keep the riff raff from the church. That church had ZERO impact on their neighborhood and community.

Our churches have invisible fences around them. The good folks of our churches don’t want people in the church to cuss, be rough around the edges or to cause things to be uneasy. We have been very effective in keeping people out of the church. Doesn’t that sound like what was happening to the “church in Jesus’ day? So what did Jesus do? He went out to the people! FIA will get our church folks “out to the people” as we serve them!

Our church is going to look into doing four projects on that weekend. One project will be designed for those who are physically unable to do manual labor. One option for this group will be putting together AIDS caregiver kits. This will be done at the church during the normal church time (if a visitor comes to the church there will be someone folks there working on a service project). World Vision has very specific directions for the kits. These kits are greatly needed in Africa.

We have not decided on what projects to undertake. The World Vision web site has many ideas for projects. Check them out here.

The church has left the building: Small Groups and Leaving the Building.

Today’s Dahlia: Ala Mode.

Faith in Action (FIA) is a joint project between World Vision, Outreach and Zondervan. FIA is a four week, church-wide campaign to help the church focus on mission/ministry outside the walls of the church. Today I am going to talk about small groups and leaving the building.

Small Groups: Small group are a key component for FIA. The groups will help energize the participants, provide a biblical foundation for outreach and help people to form stronger bonds with those they worship with. I would love to see 80% of our worshipping congregation be a part of the small groups. An additional benefit is that some of the small groups may decide to continue meeting at the conclusion of the FIA campaign.

Leaving the building: Our churches have become like fortresses of the Middle Ages. People rush into the fortress for safety/protection. Just think for a moment… the vast majority of Presbyterians are over the age of 65 (quite possibly 75, if one judges by the age of those attending Presbytery meetings). The world we live in today barely resembles the world they grew up in—everything has changed. A recent presidential debate was held on YouTube—most of our church members have never ever heard of YouTube. A family member is serving as a “missionary” in a country where missionaries are not allowed and we communicate with this person using Skype and an encrypted e-mail service (that I will not name for security purposes)—most Presbyterians have never heard of Skype or encrypted e-mail. Heck, most Presbyterians wouldn’t know what a blog is if it came up and looked them in the face! Cars are analyzed with computers at the repair shop. Then there is the telephone directory—I have used the phone directory twice in the past two years (I use the internet). The world has changed.

Our older folks come to church for a lot of reasons: to worship their Lord, to grow in their faith, to be with friends and to be in a safe and comfortable environment. Things in the church change much slower than things outside the church. The result is that our churches have developed an inward focus.

FIA is one way for the church to leave the building! The church cancels worship on the fourth Sunday of the FAI campaign to serve the local community and missions around the world. Our mission team will be identifying two or three projects that we will work on on that Sunday. We will advertise in the local papers that visitors should not come to our church that day because we will be out working in the community. We will send out several thousand post cards to Graham, Washington, residents with the same message. FIA Sunday will help our church family leave the building and it will send a message to the community that we care about our community and world. The “church” gets so much bad press these days; it will be wonderful for the church to get some good press for a change.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The church has left the building: Sermons.

Note: My dahlia garden is almost in full bloom. I will be sharing a photo of a different dahlia until you have seen all the different dahlias in my garden. Today’s dahlia is called Midnight Moon. The photo does not do it justice!

Faith in Action (FIA) is a joint project between World Vision, Outreach and Zondervan. FIA is a four week, church-wide campaign to help the church focus on mission/ministry outside the walls of the church. Today I am going to talk about the sermon topics for the campaign.

Sermon #1: Detour.

“God uses detours to get our attention and help us see what’s really important.” (FAI Planning Guide) The text for the message is Luke 10:25-37 – the story of the Good Samaritan. Detours take us from the way we would normally go.

There is road construction go on all around the part of the county I live in. Detours are a way of life. Detours have enabled me to see some new areas. Detours have given me a new perspective of the area in which I live.

The Good Samaritan took a detour that took a risk. The Samaritan stopped along a very dangerous road that was known as “The Way of Blood”, to help a person who was hurt. The robbers could have been waiting nearby to pounce on anyone who stopped to give assistance to the injured man.

The Good Samaritan took a detour that took personal involvement. The Samaritan had to get his hands dirty. He had to give his time to care for the injured man. How often have we heard of people who don’t want to “get involved” when they witness a crime? Last night was the 24th National Night Out a time for people in their community to get out against drugs and crime. People get involve for one night—stamping out crime takes involvement night after night. The Good Samaritan was willing to get involved.

The Good Samaritan took a detour that took time. He took the man to a nearby town and found a place for him to be cared for. I promised to return and cover any additional costs. Travel in that day took time—lots of time.

The Good Samaritan took a detour that took money. As I just mentioned, the Samaritan paid for the man to be cared for.

Our churches need to take a detour to see those in our community that need assistance. It will mean taking risks, getting involved, giving of our time and money.

Sermon #2: Lens.

“When we refocus our vision we will begin to see the world as God does.” (FIA Planning Guide)

Something strange happens to humans—when we see something over and over and over it eventually gets to where we don’t notice it. It happens around the house, at work, at church and as we go around town. The familiarity lens keeps us from seeing things around us as they really are. The homeless person goes unnoticed. The rundown house becomes invisible. We forget about the elderly person who hasn’t been in church for three months.

My eyesight use to be horrible (-10 dioptres – almost blind). I had to wear glasses or contacts all of the time. Fortunately, I has lasic surgery to correct the lens of each eye. The change was amazing.

Our churches need to have a lens change. We need God to help us see things in our communities as he see them.

Sermon #3: Drop.

“God uses small things and multiplies the results. We can each make a difference.” (FIA Planning Guide)

Small acts can make a big splash!

Too often the challenges around us seem so huge that we feel overwhelmed. We might say, “What can I do to change such a big problem?” We forget that with God great things can happen.

Little things can bring about change. The mustard seed grows into a huge plant. The little bit of yeast leavens the whole bowl of bread dough.

Our churches can be a “little drop” that makes a big splash.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Lessons from the doctor’s office as they apply to the church.

It has been a while since my last post. I have been having the “joy” of going to the doctor to find out if there is anything wrong with my heart or lungs. No word yet—which is probably a good thing.

I have learned several lessons from the past week’s experiences that apply to the church and its ministry. Here they are…

  • One person can ruin the experience: Those familiar with the PCUSA medical insurance are familiar with CareAllies (formerly Intracorp), the group that must pre-approve outpatient tests such as imaging (excluding x-rays and ultrasound), nuclear stress tests, hospital admissions, etc. One person in the “back room” of the cardiologist’s office was positive that the procedures the doctor wanted done would be approved and that I should go and have them done. At the same time CareAllies was telling me that the doctor’s office had to call them to get the procedures pre-approved. The person in the doctor’s office would not talk to me and still has not called CareAllies. The doctor and her medical staff are exceptional—one or two office persons have made it such a nightmare that I will not go back to that practice after this episode is completed. One or two persons in the office have ruined the experience. For a church, one person can ruin the church “experience” for a newcomer/visitor. Likewise, one person can make the experience fantastic. We cannot “control” what our regular attendees say and do at church—we can encourage them be caring, positive, uplifting, thoughtful, etc. One person griping or complaining could “turn off” a visitor. However, one or two persons who go out of their way to welcome and befriend a visitor can have a profound impact on the visitor. Every church should have a person or two who intentionally watch for visitors and strive to make the visitor’s time at the church as good as possible.
  • Though we speak the same language we don’t speak the same language: Some office staff in the doctor’s office don’t seem to know the difference between a “referral” and “pre-approval.” I cannot believe that our insurance is the only one that requires pre-approval of certain procedures. They kept saying, “You don’t need a referral for this test.” I would answer, “I know I don’t need a referral for the test—I need it to be pre-approved by my insurance company.” And they would answer, “You don’t need a referral.” There are many “languages” involved in every church and all of the people do not speak the same “language.” I am convince that communication is a huge issue for most churches: not everyone understands Presbyterian lingo, there are different meanings for the same term, there are generational/technological differences in communication. Text messaging is great but only a few people at the church over the age of 20 text message. E-mail is useful—if people regularly check their e-mail and if the message wasn’t lost in cyberspace (still, we have many people who will never but a personal computer). Our church newsletter is great but we have found that less than 40% of the congregation actually reads the whole thing. Announcements in the bulletin are helpful but almost nobody reads them. Do you get the picture? Communication is a HUGE issue for most churches.
  • Don’t judge by the needle marks in the arm: I am not an abuser of hard drugs that need to be injected into the veins! Do I have “needle marks”? You bet! It seems as though every test I am given requires that something is either put into, or taken out of, the veins in my arms. I imagine that I am running a little low on blood and that I glow in the dark! I digress—my arms look like I am a drug abuser. We need to be careful about making judgments about people based on outward appearances. Remember, the best Christmas present doesn’t always come in the prettiest box! Appearances can be deceiving.
  • There are lots of doctors to choose from: I do not “have” to go to any particular doctor. There are a lot of churches out there—people have a choice. Why should people go to your church or my church? Maybe a better way of saying this would be, “Why should God lead a person to your church or my church”? Have you thought of that? I have been spending a fair amount of time thinking about that very thing. God will be brutally honest with you—so, don’t think about it unless you are ready to hear the truth from God.

I will get back to "The Church has Left the Building" tomorrow.