What Loyalty to the Church of the Nazarene means…

Except for the two years as a seminarian when I served as a youth director at a Presbyterian church, the only church I have ever regularly attended is the Church of the Nazarene. All of my siblings and their spouses have attended Nazarene colleges. All of my parents’ grandchildren and most of their grandchildren’s spouses have also attended Nazarene colleges. As a baby, I was wheeled in a stroller to be dedicated in a Church of the Nazarene, and they’ll probably roll my casket into one when I die. The only way we Princes could be more Nazarene is if we were born in Pilot Point, Texas and named our dogs “Phineas,” “Schmelzenbach,” and “Wynkoop.”

My loyalty does not mean that I think the Church of the Nazarene is perfect. It clearly isn’t perfect. It can’t be perfect because every four years we have a General Assembly where there are over 200 proposed changes for our manual and by-laws. It can’t be perfect, because I know of too many leaders (pastors and laypeople) who have failed. It can’t be perfect, because I am credentialed elder in the Church of the Nazarene and I am not perfect.

My loyalty does not mean I view the Church of the Nazarene through rose colored glasses. Clearly, we have work to do. Our numbers in the USA/Canada are headed in the wrong direction. Our clergy are old and getting older (myself included). Many churches are staring at financial crises as older, tithing members die off while their younger counterparts aren’t giving at the same level. Every district has several churches in hospice, ready for last rites. There are too many hypocrites, bullies and carnal members filling the pews and pulpits. Our methods don’t work like they once did. Our views are too partisan. Our love is too conditional. Our mission too convoluted. Our comfort with the world is too cozy. I get it. I’m not oblivious to the challenges we face. To modify astronaut James Lovell’s famous quote, “Lenexa, we have a problem.”

Loyalty in response to these and other challenges means not grumbling, quitting or sticking our heads in the sand. Instead, it means it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Love God and our neighbor. Proclaim the Good News. Make Christ-like disciples. Reach the unreached. Serve the troubled. Be the church that P.F. Bresee and so many others dreamed we could be— the church that wears well the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene!

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Thoughts on Marriage: When Opposites Attract

Usually I am a glass is half full guy. Sometimes it’s mostly full. For my wife, Karla, it’s half empty. Sometimes it’s mostly empty.

I like all vegetables. I think they are pretty. Karla says vegetables are for eating not for looking. Learning this news, I said, “In that case, I don’t like all vegetables very much.” She loves eating vegetables.

My favorite time of the year is fall. It means football is back. Baseball is still going. Basketball will soon be starting. Karla hates fall. It means football is back. Baseball is still going. Basketball will soon be starting.

I stand on a platform and speak to hundreds of people each week. Karla would rather stuff a wireless microphone up her nose than set foot on a platform, let alone speak publically.

I like adventure as long as it means staying on the ground and doing nothing dangerous. Karla has been known to skydive from 14,000 feet. Once she signed us up to zip line without thinking that I’d rather stuff a wireless microphone up my nose than go zip lining through the jungles of Mexico.

My point, frequently (but not always) opposites attract. Karla and I are opposites in some things, but we are likeminded in important matters (God, priorities, money, etc.). All marriages (whether the couple is as opposite as can be or peas in a pod) require work. Even when two people love Jesus, they still need to invest time and effort in their marriage; think of the other person’s interests above their own and genuinely strive for the other’s betterment.

One of the oldest observations in the Bible states, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). The successful marriages are the ones that figure out that two different people must become one. Oh, not in everything, try as I might, I’m fairly confident that Karla will never become a baseball fan, and I am equally confident I will not be eating zucchini any time soon. Still, the happily-ever-after couples put Jesus first, their spouse (not self) second, work to be of one mind in the important things of life and never have your spouse so frustrated that he/she wants to stick a wireless microphone up his/her nose.

Is it Time to Call Hospice for your Church? A Quick List of the Vital Signs

The human body has five main organs (brain, heart, kidneys, liver and lungs). Lose one of those organs and you’re dead. Similarly, the church body will die if its vital organs are not functioning. I’m not talking about the church sanctuary’s Hammond decorated with plastic flowers—circa 1974, but the vital factors that keep a church alive. From time to time, churches would benefit from having a spiritual checkup and determine how its major organs are working.

Make a call to hospice if you see problems with the following:

Lungs… keep fresh air in the body.
One quick way for a church to see an early grave is to have stale programs and ministries. No fresh ideas. No new breezes of evangelism, outreach or mission. With no fresh faces coming through the doors (or more accurately stated, not coming back after one visit), call the doctor, it won’t be long.

Kidneys… essential in eliminating waste.
Much like the flowers on top of the old Hammond organ, eliminating outdated and ineffective ministries is essential to health in the body. Some ministries run their course. Methods (not message) must change to reach an ever-changing world. If it’s no longer working, eliminate it.

Heart… keeps the blood pumping through the body.
Just as a heart pumps oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, a healthy church will pump meaning, spiritual development and service opportunities to its members. If the Great Commission is not happening, check the church’s pulse. Dying churches don’t baptize or disciple new believers.

Liver… filters the blood and keeps the body pure.
One sure way to put a church of life support is impure leadership. Secret sins among the pastors and leaders are as deadly to a church body as d-CON is to the church mouse.

Brain… our body’s computer.
Not all church failures are the result of sin or the lack of new ideas. Some churches fail because of poor decisions, little planning and bad economics. Many churches fail to recover from faulty financial decisions or the failure to recognize soon enough a changing church economic outlook.

In short, churches on hospice care are churches with:
a) no fresh ideas (lungs);
b) refuse to unload outdated programs or methods (kidneys),
c) offer little spiritual nutrition to the remaining members (heart);
d) have purity issues in leadership (liver), and/or
e) make poor decisions (brain).

If any one of these vital organ functions fail, the church is in real trouble. If two or more are kaput, call a priest it’s time to administer last rites.

An 11th Commandment for the 21st Century (using 16th Century language)?

Opening Disclaimer: Obviously, adding a commandment is silliness, but if an additional decree had been given the modern reader might have benefitted from these:

11. Thou shalt not post gossip on thine internet. For on the day, thou post-th untruths on thine Facebook page thou shalt surely have a carpal tunnel the size of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Thou shalt not retweeth lies and rumors and falsehoods and unholy likenesses of thine enemies. For if thou shalt bear false witness of thine enemy, the fleas of a thousand camels shalt infest thine armpits. Posteth unto others as thou would like to have posted about thy own self.

11. Thou shalt not maketh reference to a church squabble with the phrase “everyone is saying.” Thou knowest that “everyone is NOT saying” whatever thou art complaining about. Thus, more correctly, thou shalt say, “me and my equally cranky friend, Manasseh*, thinketh ________ (fill in thine blank with thine latest lame grievance).

11. Thou shalt not maketh thine theological opinions based on thine favorite news outlet. Neither thy Fox News not thy CNN nor thy MSNBC is the Gospel. Such distinction is for the following reporters of Good News: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

11. Thou shalt love thine neighbor without asking qualifying questions such as: if thy neighbor voteth the way thou voted; or if thy neighbor’s skin tone is the same as thine own skin tone, or if thy neighbor speaketh the same language as thou speaketh. Be kind to thy neighbor without regard to such matters.

11. Thou shalt not cometh to thy church and never lifteth a finger in meaningful service. For if thy only behaveth like a sponge and doeth nothing, thou art in grave danger of becoming a potato, a couch potato, and I shalt spew you out of my mouth liken unto a cold French Fry.

11. Thou shalt giveth to the Lord thou tithe on 10% of thine income. Thou shalt not giveth 0%, neither shalt thou giveth 1%. Thou shalt giveth 10% and 10% shalt be thy number to giveth.

11. Thou shalt attendeth church regularly. Thou shalt not make excuses. Thou shalt not sleepth in. Thou shalt not thinkth that sports or mowing thine grass or visiting a zoo are more important than gathering with thou fellow believers. For further reference see Commandment #4.

Jesus didn’t need eleven but reduced the greatest commandments to these two: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39. Let’s do that!

*Obscure biblical reference is the name of the worst human in the Bible not named Judas. See 2 Chronicles 33

The Last Church Building is Sold (The headline from August 6, 2119?)

August 6, 2119—Kansas City, MO.  The last brick and mortar church building in the city closed today. The Rev. Joe Schmoe signed the papers to complete the sale of the once strong congregation. The building will be razed and an electric charging station for autonomous vehicles will be built in its place. The handful of members left will meet in one of the parishioner’s homes.

A century ago, brick and mortar church buildings were on nearly every street in the city. But over the last several decades church buildings like the obsolete automobile gas stations and department stores have left the landscape of our cities. Sociologists and historians have debated on the exact cause of the death of the brick and mortar church building in the 21stcentury. There are plenty of factors:

Theological confusion.

Those religiously bent historians might point to things like a division over the proper response to the LBGTQ community, the embracing of partisan politics, the church’s silence in the face of societal injustices, little empathy for the hurting and lonely or the moral failure of prominent leaders. But it seems that all of these are examples of the problems and not the core issue. A simple reading of the Gospels show how the 21st century church had gotten away from the teachings of Jesus and strayed from their core mission to make disciples. A church without a mission is not a church but a social club, and social clubs eventually lose their appeal and die within a generation or two.

Preoccupied People.

Plenty of people fed up with the perceived hypocritical church model stopped attending altogether. The people that did show up to the brick and mortar buildings in the mid 21st century brought with them a social media driven world view shaped by their favorite political pundits, sports heroes and celebrity wannabes.  With them came a narcissistic mindset that the world, church and even Jesus revolved around them. They would come to church when they had nothing better going on and frequently they had something better going on. They weren’t mad at Jesus. They just ignored him or tired of his counter-cultural words.

Less Money

The few people who remained were less inclined to tithe as there was a notable difference in loyalty to the church from the members who preceded them. With less money and less people, many congregations simply could not afford their buildings. The closures were as much for economic reasons as they were for theological and societal ones.

You can still find Christians today. They meet in homes and coffee shops. They seem to be more committed to each other than those who called themselves Christian from a century ago. While smaller in raw numbers, it seems these Christians are faithful to the cause of Christ. Some people may look at the lack of buildings as a sign of decline, maybe it is an example of the old adage: Addition by subtraction. By subtracting the brick and mortar buildings, denominationalism, and theological weeds that had grown in the way, this new generation of believers seems to be more influenced by the mission and message of Jesus.  This growing phenomenon explains why many of the faithful have been heard saying, “The church isn’t dead. It’s just not warehoused in a brick and mortar building any longer.”

 

 

When Your Family’s Story is not great…

When I first became a Church of the Nazarene pastor, people would frequently ask if General Superintendent William Prince was my grandfather. Um…. no. Not by a long shot. This became more evident this week, when a cousin shared a 1937 Detroit newspaper article about my grandfather. The article doesn’t tell how my grandfather rescued a child from a burning building in heroic fashion. My grandfather did not lead a food drive to help the hungry in the Great Depression. I wish that were the case.IMG_6682.JPG

Apparently, a jury awarded my grandfather $5,000 (that’s over $92,000 in today’s dollars). This windfall came to the namesake of my brother and cousin because two men, the owner of a tavern, Fred Hicks and his son Raymond, tossed my grandfather out of their bar and beat him with a wooden mallet. Grandpa Fred claimed his knee was permanently damaged. The jury agreed.

It’s a brief article, but it gives a peek into my family history.

Princes have had a problem with alcohol. I’m not sure what prompted my grandfather’s hasty exit from the drinking establishment, but it’s not a stretch to say alcohol played a role. Of course, this incident happened approximately seven years after my grandmother (Fred’s wife) died of alcohol poisoning. Did I mention we had a problem with alcohol?

Princes haven’t always been good with money. $5000 was a lot of money during the Great Depression. When my grandfather died no one in the family worried about how they were going to spend their inheritance. There was no inheritance.

The article stated that the tavern owner was a middleweight boxer. My ancestors hit the bottle hard, but apparently did not hit the gym hard. Moreover, my grandfather must not have taken the advice that he gave his son (and my dad taught me): “When in trouble– do a lot of ‘cutting’ and ‘shooting.’ Cutting around corners and shooting for home.” Apparently, even before my grandfather’s kneecap was smashed by a wooden mallet, he was not the fleetest of foot.

It’s not a story that produces family reunion pride. We had substance abuse, money problems and we weren’t particularly smart or athletic All this to say, we were a mess.

Can anything good come out of 8376 Logan Street? Others may have given up on our motley crew. God did not. I’m not sure of where my grandfather stood with the Lord—he died before my dad met my mom. But in spite of all the dysfunction, all of Fred’s children came to faith. Many of Fred’s grandchildren and great grandchildren are serving the Lord. There are lawyers, teachers, nurses, counselors, and business people in the family. The two namesake grandsons (my cousin Fred and my brother Fred) both became pastors, so did three others. God never gave up on my family.

Your family story may include a drunk with a gimpy leg, like mine, but that doesn’t have to be the final word. God can redeem even the worst family’s story by making us part of His family and His story! Paul said this about himself, but it applies to me and my family: Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15) Thanks be to God!

 

Future Church > Present Church. Here’s Why…

Future Church is going to look a lot different than Present Church and that’s a good thing.

Present Church:
Aging clergy
Declining attendance
Decreased giving
Partisan politics dividing the church
Young adults leaving church in record numbers.
Commitment level (even among the most devout) at an all-time low.

Future Church:
Bi-vocational ministers (like the early church*)
More house churches (like the early church*)
Less reliance on money and buildings (like the early church*)
Less politics, more Jesus (like the early church*)
An all-in, whatever-it-takes mentality of the faithful (like the early church*)

Present Church has taught Future Church what NOT to do. Present Church has gotten off track in our Americanized version of Christianity. Our voice is being convoluted by things that are not the Gospel. There’s too much carnality within our ranks. We are too political. We have too much angst and not enough Jesus. We are quick to point out the slivers in other’s eyes, while winking at the log in our own. Hypocrisy is rampant. It’s no wonder our young people are saying, “if that’s the church, thanks but no thanks.”

The Church was Jesus’ idea. He builds it, not us. If Present Church has failed Him (the previous paragraph implies that we have), then Jesus will raise up a new generation with new methods to proclaim His never changing message of hope. A new generation will look at what our efforts have gotten us (low numbers, feeble faith, anemic commitment and fearful and silent leaders) and determine that they will not be like us. They will have learned from our silence in the face of sin and our boisterous condemnations of those not like us. The next generation will not make the same mistakes.

How can I be so sure? Jesus! Jesus is the head! Jesus is our Teacher. Jesus is our strength. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Colossians 1:17-19). Jesus will overcome! If death could not defeat Him, then neither will our generation’s watered down, powerless, politicized, teetering, non-Biblical ways. I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. –Jesus (in Matthew 16:18).

*The Early Church had its troubles. Future Church will too. Our Enemy was, is and will be on the prowl. But Future Church like the Early Church will rely on Jesus more, because Jesus is all they will have and that will be enough.