Category Archives: church

Not what I had planned

Photo by Elvis Santana

“Mentsch tracht, Gott lacht” (Man plans, God laughs) — Yiddish proverb

When we moved near University of the Pacific in the fall of 2007, I had intended to start a small group study at my home for college students. I had envisioned heady theological discussions over coffee. I don’t know exactly what I had in mind, but it was something akin to Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” or C.S. Lewis and his faculty cronies at Oxford.

After gentle prodding from God and his earthly representatives, my wife and I agreed to host a small group Bible study in our home on Thursday evenings. After nearly six months now, I can say with confidence that it’s not what I had planned. How doth God humor me? Let me count the ways:

  • None of our members have a car. We picke up most of our group and bring them to our house. During these months, we have endured two flat tires — same car, same day! — and a dead transmission. But we endure. And endure. And endure.
  • None of our members have a home environment that allows them to host, or they simply haven’t arrived at the point in their journey where they are comfortable hosting our little dysfunctional band of brothers. So, instead of a house-to-house ministry, we’re a stationary group, in which my wife and I play the role of permanent hosts. We also teach the group in tandem, since our group hasn’t evolved to the point where they are asking questions (that pertain to the lesson; of the irrelevant sort, they know no bounds).
  • Three of our regular members have been county mental health patients. Two have been incarcerated. Two have had their children taken from them. Most of them come from gangs, with the accompanying body art. At least three of them are recovering drug addicts. And this is just the stuff I know.

And yet, amid all the chaos and level of need for which I feel woefully unprepared to meet, the miraculous occurs on a regular basis:

  • One of our members prays for a job. She gets a job for a national retailer that allows her to work weekdays, which allows her to spend time with her children, continue to attend our group and make it to church Sundays.
  • Another member asked that we pray for a place to live, since the home she was renting with her daughter had gone into foreclosure. She didn’t find a place; the new owner of the home she was renting decided to let her and her family stay.
  • This same member asked for prayer about a tumor the doctors had found in one of her kidneys. Sometime before the biopsy, the doctors learned it was a deformity of her urinary tract.

Perhaps the most miraculous goings-on involve the change in attitude among our members. One member who is going through some extreme hardship regularly expresses frustration bordering on exasperation with her children. On a whim, I asked the group if they had any advice.

“I’d read Psalm 61,” chimed in our group mother. “It helped me out a lot.”

Stunned, I reached for my Bible and looked for the advised psalm. I don’t remember the last time I heard Psalm 61 read or taught, much less recommended. But there it was, in all its appropriate wisdom:

1Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.

2From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

3 For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.

4 I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings. Selah.

5For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name.

6Thou wilt prolong the king’s life: and his years as many generations.

7He shall abide before God for ever: O prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him.

8So will I sing praise unto thy name for ever, that I may daily perform my vows.

This same person correctly identified Manasseh and Ephraim as Joseph’s children at the beginning of a lesson. It’s all I can do to avoid falling out of my chair on some Thursday evenings.

Our latest endeavor involves memorizing scripture. We’re starting off with Psalm 1, a grounding passage dealing with the blessings that come from following God, and the danger in seeking ungodly counsel.

I can hardly wait for my next plan to unravel.

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Filed under Christianity, church, discipleship, small group

To boldly go…

On Thursday, our church will shutter the doors of the building where we have held our midweek Bible studies for several years. Or more appropriately, we will keep the doors closed until Sunday.

Instead, we will gather at the homes of some of our members, brew some coffee, put out some hors d’oeuvres and open for business.

Welcome to the new-and-improved midweek church service.

In a gutsy move, our pastor has placed each of our parishioners in nearly 20 groups of 10 to 20 people. The purpose of these groups is to hang out and get to know each other — what church people call fellowship.

The groups will also provide a venue for discipleship, that critical but often overlooked phase in the development of newly minted Christians. New Christians need a safe, friendly venue where they can ask questions about their beliefs and network with other believers to share experiences and get support.

Third, the groups will serve as a place where people with little to no knowledge of Christianity can come, learn and ask questions. We hope these people find us through friends who are already in our groups — what church people call evangelism — or through advertising in the community, i.e. fliers, craigslist, etc.

We don’t know where this will lead. But we can’t go back to the world of opening our doors for the sake of our existing members. We can’t continue to hoard our resources for the benefit of the converted. Those who are already part of the church have to adopt a servant outlook and transcend the mindset that believes the church exists solely as a organism where people can get their needs met. Is that part of the mission of the church? Absolutely. But many of the people in our church and churches across America never make the transition from church member to church participant.

One of the things I appreciate about my pastor is how he views success with regard to church growth. It isn’t based on how many people are in the building on Sundays. That’s easy. Success is measured by how many people are in the community who have never heard your message, The Message. (the Gospel, not the Bible Translation.) To wit: broader Christianity isn’t doing too well at communicating its message.

Please keep my wife and I as well as our church in your prayers as we redefine ourselves for the betterment of our community. I’m really excited about the notion of opening our home to the community. Who knows what will happen?

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This just in: hot teaching assignment

My ministry 2.0 experience, the years following my return to God in the fall of 2000, has been characterized by one teaching assignment after another. I’ve had the privilege of teaching:

  •  An topical adult class on Sunday mornings at our church in Salinas.
  • A Thursday-evening examination of the book of Romans at our church in Monterey.
  • Individual and small-group Bible studies.
  • An occasional Thursday-evening topical study to our English adult congregation at our current church.

I’ve been selected to teach the adult English portion of our family camp, held each Memorial Day Weekend. Since the missus and I are relative newbies to this congregation, it’s quite an honor to be selected for the task. There’s a tremendous amount of planning that will go into this, and there isn’t much time. Continue reading

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From Lifehack: The Gentle Art of Saying No

The good people at Lifehack must have the gift of prophecy, or at the very least are in tune with the demands of modern life.

Their feed this morning featured the following article on how to say no. It’s something with which I have struggled all of my life. I work really hard at being a nice guy and it’s to my own detriment when I overbook my schedule. As the post explains, I end up doing a so-so job on too many projects instead of doing a fantastic job on a smaller, more manageable list.

This is particularly prevalent in my life within the realm of church, since the perception is that everything has eternal consequence. Even though I know I’m pusuing my calling and have tremendous satisfaction, I feel obligated to help out other fledgling ministries at our church who suffer from a lack of volunteers. Continue reading

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