Archive for ◊ November, 2010 ◊

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• Monday, November 29th, 2010

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Gretchen Switzer

Author of “Finishing With Grace”

Mike Ruhl goes on to say that “The Priority of Comfort” is often at play in  struggling congregations.  Flourishing congregations not only tolerate, but expect, to be challenged in worship and church life.   The truth of the matter is that Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels are designed to make us uncomfortable, to shake us up and help us see the world in new ways.  The Bible calls us to be radical in our faith — radically generous, audaciously loving and willing to sacrifice for our love of God.  Those teachings are bound to make us squirm in our seats.  The truth of faith means we don’t always get to be comfortable in our skins.  If our emotional and spiritual limits are not being stretched by our faith, then we aren’t paying attention.  The Gospel calls us to stand up and take action in order to follow Christ.  In an exciting congregation, we are not sitting comfy in our pews without considering others within and (most radically) those outside the church. We are moving beyond our comfort zone to minister in the world.

Finally, Ruhl writes that “only 3% of US churches have a planned method for instructing their members to learn the Bible in its entirety.” Engaging in church life without reading the “instruction manual” can cause profound difficulties in the community of faith and for personal faith growth.  It is essential that preaching presents Biblical truth ( as your tradition understands it) and teaches you, your children and grandchildren how it connects with your own lives.  And by Biblical truth, I mean all the truth, not just the pretty comforting, familiar passages we have committed to our emotional memory, but the harder teachings that completely challenge us, because it is facing the whole truth of God, even the hard stuff, that assures that we grow in faith.

based on  “Smell the Coffee:  Seven Sins of Dying Churches”  by Mike Ruhl

http://www.centerforusmissions.com/Resources/MissionalResoucesAlphabeticalListing/tabid/111/Default.aspx

To Purchase “Finishing With Grace” click here

Click here to email  Gretchen

Category: church health and vitality  | Comments off
Author:
• Monday, November 15th, 2010

Post by
Gretchen Switzer
Author of “Finishing With Grace”

Ruhl’s article goes on to say that churches in decline have few  “outwardly-focused ministries.”  “When churches seek to care and minister only to their own, it can suggest that decline is in motion and death imminent.” he writes.   I would add that healthy churches are deeply involved with the community around them.  They understand their ministry as service to those outside their doors, reaching out to those in their neighborhood or community.  Churches, especially those that have experienced serious conflict, tend to become inward looking only.  They become so concerned with the preservation of what exists within their walls that they literally forget about the needs of the people outside in the world around them.  It used to be that a church could just ring their steeple bell and people would come running from their homes and farmers from their fields.  Today, a vibrant church reaches out to bring people in, to care for the uncared for and minister to the disenfranchised.  A congregation who is doing so has a bright future ahead.  A congregation who is no longer doing that is already in peril.

“Conflict Over Personal Preferences” is another symptom Ruhl discusses.  “Energy and focus for advancing the Kingdom of God can be consumed by conflicts over building programs, church and school rivalry, preferred worship style, color of paint for a room and type of sanctuary carpeting.  Personal preference rigidity can turn some churches into a war zone.”
I agree with every word of this.  I would also caution that the problem is not that people have personal preferences, but that so many people become inflexible  about them.  The God’s honest truth is that what we say we are arguing about is rarely what we are really arguing about.  For instance,  Mabel is feeling threatened by so much change in the church, including new members that she has never actually met.  Instead of saying this in so many words, Mabel chooses a battle – usually  something relatively insignificant, and she endows that issue with all her fear and anger –  she ends up yelling, “The carpet has to be green!” in the middle of a Deacons meeting and no one knows why the issue of carpet color is so emotionally “charged” for her.  All they know is that Mabel has dug her heels in and will not agree to any carpet color except “sage green.”  At the same meeting, you have Jeff and Jenny, who are new to the congregation and want to feel as if they have value and input in this current decision.  Their carpet color of choice is “desert brown.”  They dig their heels in and a conflict erupts over the color of the carpet when the deacons were supposed to be discussing the next mission project.
These kinds of events derail those who are trying, as Ruhl says, to “advance the Kingdom of God.”   It leaves everybody frustrated and confused.  And it inevitably delays the installation of the new carpet or the groundbreaking for the new building or the decision about worship style, as well as the coming of the “Kingdom of God.”

If a congregation gets mired in these kinds of arguments, the conflict may escalate until there is no turning back.Again, this is a congregation who has lost clarity about their spiritual priorities.
A congregation who has their priorities straight may already have a strategy in place to address rigid personal preferences.  A healthy church should be able to reaffirm that God is the center of their lives and agree that, in all probability, God doesn’t care what color the sanctuary carpet is as long as God’s children are coming to worship there “in spirit and in truth.”

based on  “Smell the Coffee:  Seven Sins of Dying Churches”  by Mike Ruhl

http://www.centerforusmissions.com/Resources/MissionalResoucesAlphabeticalListing/tabid/111/Default.aspx

To Purchase “Finishing With Grace” click here

Click here to email  Gretchen

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• Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Post by
Gretchen Switzer
Author of “Finishing With Grace”

Michael Ruhl continues with “Failure to Be Relevant.”  Churches in decline tend to be churches that are “out of touch” with the world at large.  A personal example comes to mind.  Fifteen years ago when my husband was seeking a pastoral call to a new church, he became interested in a church located in a small city.  They sounded fantastic, so  we went to visit so Dave could interview for the position.  The historic building was quite beautiful and you could tell they took pride in the physical plant.  As the Deacon giving us the tour brought us through the sanctuary to the big old wooden front doors,  he commented that they just did not know how to connect with the young people in their city.  At that moment, we found ourselves walking out the front door.   Standing on the front steps I asked, “What is that large building across the street?”  “That?  That’s the city high school,” the Deacon replied.  This church did not see the opportunity they had just across the street to connect with teenagers and their families.  They did not know how to make themselves “relevant” in the community and the neighborhood in which they found themselves. Worse yet, they had no inclination to do so.  My husband did not pursue any further relationship with that congregation.  A strong, healthy church with a robust future is a church that wants to be relevant to the world outside its doors and is willing to put energy into becoming so.

Many churches are “run” by the elders of the congregation — by the 70 and 80 year olds who have been members of that church forever.  These members, as well as many of their middle-aged counterparts, often believe that everything in the church should stay the same as it always has been.  However, many of the traditions of worship and church life are no longer as “in step” with  people in 2010 as they were in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Although coming into the modern day requires new ways of communicating, such as the use of computers and the internet, it means more than that.   It no longer only means supporting that missionary we have in Indonesia, but it requires reaching out into the neighborhood and community around the church and feeding the hungry, caring for the dying, housing the homeless — Modern mission is faith in action, not faith just sitting there.  To be relevant to today’s society, congregations must offer opportunities for individuals to act in deeply meaningful ways to help make the world a better place. Myriad surveys indicate that this is what most people are looking for in a church in the 21st century.

Being “relevant”  may even extend to the kind of preaching that is done in your church.  Whether you have a traditional service, more contemporary worship or even both, what is addressed in the readings and sermon either makes it current or not.  For generations, preachers got up on Mother’s Day and extolled the virtues of Motherhood, knowing full well that a significant number of people in the congregation had grown up or were growing up in a household where mothers were abusive, alcoholic or drug addicted.  A traditional mother’s day sermon is simply not relevant for everybody.  I discovered this early in my ministry when I decided one Mother’s Day to preach about the challenge of maintaining healthy family relationships and named the very real difficulties of family life.  I knew it was a risk, but in the end, only one person objected to the theme of the service.  The overwhelming response I received was from individuals who couldn’t wait to thank me for not preaching a traditional Mother’s day message.  These folks were happy and relieved to have someone from the pulpit tell their truth as well as the truth of those with model parents.  It validated their experience and let them know that faith can be relevant to the truth of what has happened/is happening to them.  Churches who stay “in touch” with the realities of their society have a future.

based on  “Smell the Coffee:  Seven Sins of Dying Churches”  by Mike Ruhl

http://www.centerforusmissions.com/Resources/MissionalResoucesAlphabeticalListing/tabid/111/Default.aspx

To Purchase “Finishing With Grace” click here

Click here to email  Gretchen

Category: church health and vitality  | Comments off
Author:
• Monday, November 01st, 2010

Post by
Gretchen Switzer
Author of “Finishing With Grace”

Does Your Church have a Future?   Part One

How do you know if your church is healthy and ready to greet a vibrant, exciting future?  Are you being faithful to your calling as a community of faith?  Are there actual, identifiable symptoms your congregation may be experiencing that tell you your church might not be as healthy as you think?

Michael Ruhl wrote an article several years ago in which he outlines the common characteristics of churches that are dying or beginning to die.  He calls these characteristics “sins.”  I call them symptoms, but his observations are worthy of note by any congregation who is looking at their future.

The first characteristic of a congregation that is in “precipitous decline and impending death” is what Ruhl labels “Doctrinal Dilution.”  This seems true to me:  Churches-at-risk tend to have watered down their beliefs over the years either because they think that it might attract more people or because they have become theologically lazy.  In this case, the unifying theology that guides the community of faith is unstated and unclear, leaving the church without a common core of belief.    This leaves the congregation without a belief system on which to lean when times get tough and difficult decisions must be made about the present and the future of the church.  By the same token, a healthy church has not allowed their beliefs to be “watered down.”  There is a creed that is often recited, printed and discussed which describes common beliefs of your community of faith.  Everyone knows the creed and lives by it.  Your church is moving forward in a way that is faithful to your mission statement or credo.

“Loss of Evangelistic Passion” is the second characteristic Ruhl mentions.  Even the most theologically liberal of congregations typically starts out with a passion for sharing their faith with others. This is what prompts them to found their church to begin with.  Passion for sharing the Gospel is what gives a church a clear sense of purpose.  When the passion wanes, that sense of purpose generally weakens and when the sense of purpose is gone, the church begins to decline in every way.

A strong, flourishing  church feels the need to reach out beyond itself – to see ways to make a difference in the wider community, to discover what people of all faiths, as well as their own, can do to improve life for and share faith with  others.  This does not mean you grab your scriptural bat and bonk people over the head with it before dragging them into your church to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Instead, it means exercising what I like to call “gentle evangelism.”  Gentle evangelism may also been called invitational evangelism and largely involves telling stories about how God has worked in your life and in your church.  Stories engage others outside the church in the personal meaning faith can add to one’s life.  A vital church is consistently moving outside their own walls and telling the stories in meaningful ways.

based on  “Smell the Coffee:  Seven Sins of Dying Churches”  by Mike Ruhl

http://www.centerforusmissions.com/Resources/MissionalResoucesAlphabeticalListing/tabid/111/Default.aspx

To Purchase “Finishing With Grace” click here

Click here to email  Gretchen

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