Warm Churches vs. Cool Churches (Hint: It’s not about temperature)

Cool is out.  Warm is in.  This is not a statement regarding weather patterns on the Great Lakes or temperatures in the sanctuary.  This isn’t a new farmer’s almanac proclamation or a slogan from a HVAC seminar, instead this cool/warm discussion is regarding churches and reaching people for Jesus.

“Cool” churches in the not too distant past meant worship services filled with smoke, lights, a wood pallet background, skinny jean wearing worship leaders and a pastor with earrings and tattoos. These fad-based churches generally had a cool name that sounded more like a geological formation or a city park than a church. But like a Detroit Lions’ winning streak, cool churches don’t last.  The fad fades.

I’ll take warm instead.10

In a moment of full disclosure, as if there has ever been any doubt, I’ve never been cool. Back in the day, when I was able to fit into skinny jeans, skinny jeans weren’t cool. Bell Bottoms were in style way back then (think: the exact opposite of skinny jeans).  In my high school senior picture (see photo) that handsome devil weighed 95 pounds, wore a handmade by my mom green suit and had an afro. You can’t be more uncool than a Q-tipped shaped leprechaun. But I digress, this isn’t about my uncoolness, it’s about churches and reaching people for Jesus.

Warm churches are warm not because of the temperature, like when someone recently flipped off our air conditioning in the sanctuary on a Sunday morning. “Warm” doesn’t mean stuffy and stifling. Warm churches are genuine, authentic and real.  Warm churches love one another even if their parishioners (an uncool description of people who come to church) aren’t cool and don’t drive a Prius with a peace sign bumper sticker. Warm churches love Jesus and love their neighbors. Warm churches aren’t judgmental but still preach the truth.  Even when the truth hurts, the folks gathered know that they are loved unconditionally and intentionally.  When someone messes up in a warm church, they aren’t tossed to the side of the road like a worn-out sofa, but are loved even more.  Who needs more love than someone who has recently failed, sinned or messed up? Warm churches do their best to eliminate labels and recognize that everyone can have a place around God’s table even the uncool, the unkempt, unhappy and unappreciated.

No church where I preach on a regular basis will ever have the baggage of being labelled “cool” (I have no earrings or tattoos, and trust me when I say no one wants to see me in skinny jeans).  Still I hope the church that calls me “pastor” is warm and getting warmer.  In a day when people are becoming more and more isolated, more and more lonely and more and more depressed, I am convinced that people are looking for warm not cool.  Folks would rather know they are loved, than whether there’s a fog machine and a wood pallet stage design. Cool is out. Warm is in.

 

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A Case of the Mondays

On Monday mornings, I typically find myself beginning the day at Starbucks.  Today, I got here around 5:45AM.  I send out a weekend recap to the church board and pastors. I also send out a weekly reminder of the week ahead to the pastoral and office staff. And I generally evaluate the previous Sunday—the good, the bad and the ugly.

I am usually harder on myself than what others are (except for the few folks in my congregation who believe that their “spiritual gift” is “Pointing Out that the Preacher stinks”). I evaluate my sermon, the worship services, the intangibles like weather, building issues (yesterday we had to call the HVAC company… twice) and overall ministry effectiveness. Some weeks are better than others. I tend to brush off the compliments and grab a hold of the complaints to a much greater degree. Sometimes people’s comments dig a little deeper.  Sometimes I get too defensive. I think that’s where I was this morning.

So today as I was doing my evaluating, Monday moaning, and probably complaining a bit too much to the Lord in my devotions, I ran across Psalm 5:11-12 just in the nick of time (God has this habit of smacking us and/or reminding us of what is important at the exact right moment).  Anyway, for me this morning it came in the form of Psalm 5 that reads:

 But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them that those who love your name may rejoice in you.  Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.

On this day, when I was having a “case of the Mondays” I needed to be reminded that I can be glad in the refuge I find in the Lord.  I can sing for joy (even when it easier to sing a dirge). God surrounds me with his favor which is infinitely better than anyone else’s favor or disfavor. I can rejoice even when things aren’t perfect. Getting my eyes off the imperfections around me (and in me) and onto the perfect, present, powerful Lord is the best cure for a case of the Mondays. So today I am rejoicing that Jesus is Lord not just of Sundays but Mondays too.

 

 

“Prayer Works” but maybe not in the way you think Prayer Works

We believe prayer works! Usually when people say, “Prayer works,” they mean, “God answered my prayer in the way I wanted God to answer it.” But even if the prayers we pray are not answered in the manner in which we prayed, prayer still works!  Whenever we spend extended time with God we are changed, shaped and moved. God is God and we are not, and we can ALWAYS trust him are the lessons of prayer.

“Prayer works” can imply that prayer is like a vending machine.  It’s not. You don’t drop in a prayer and assume God is not “out of order,” and the prayer is automatically and, more importantly, affirmatively answered. Simply because someone, somewhere prayed does not mean that God is compelled to automatically answer that prayer request with a great big “Yes.”  (If that were the case, the Detroit Lions would have won the Super Bowl years ago). In my past, I thought I knew what was best and prayed for it (only to later learn it wasn’t the best), and I’m glad God said “No.” I don’t think God replied, “Hey knucklehead, are you crazy?” to my requests, but once I had the advantage of all of the facts, I realized how thankful I should be that God said, “No.”

If the previous two paragraphs are correct (and I’d like to think they are), then here are my three words of advice when we spend times in genuine prayer:  Fasten your seatbelts!

Here’s why:

James 5:13 says: The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (I know plenty of people who are rightly called “prayer warriors”). And…

1 Peter 3:12 says:“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.” (Did I mention that some of the finest people I know are pray-ers?)

And the big KABOOM! is in Matthew 7:7, where Jesus said: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Now I don’t know how God will work. I don’t know when God will work. I don’t know the nitty, gritty details of God’s working, but I know as God responds (either with a “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait”), God is always up to something good. ALWAYS. Jesus went on to say, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11).  In other words, following times of genuine prayer from genuine people, fasten your seatbelts we are in for an amazing ride because you got it: “Prayer works!”

 

 

If the Church were More Like Rosy’s Diner in Escanaba…

This week I ate lunch (which for me was really breakfast) at Rosy’s Diner. The restaurant can best be described as a “dive” in Upper Peninsula town of Escanaba.  Rosy’s diner is the #1 rated restaurant on YELP for Escanaba (by the way, Krystal Jo’s on Fenton Road is #1 in Flint).  Once I took Karla to Krystal Jo’s (did I mention we only went there once?), Karla wasn’t a fan.  She would have rated Rosy’s similarly.  Not me.  I loved it.

Rosy, I learned, has owned the diner for 19 years.  How did I acquire such news?  Rosy talked nonstop.  From the time we entered until the time we left, she shared her opinions in a loud booming voice.  The entire restaurant (which seats probably 25 people, including those at the counter) also heard her various comments and life commentary. She was better than any late-night TV host. I learned that her feet hurt, the help was slow (from my vantage point I thought the other lady was working hard), and the guy eating at the counter, his wife and her “old man” are planning to go “side by siding” this weekend (which is some type of off road adventuring and has nothing to do with home repairs or having matching refrigerators).  When a family with a couple teenagers came into the diner she said, “Where you been?  You’ve only been here four times this year.” (There are a few people I’d like to say that to at my church, but I digress).  She then turned to one of the teenagers and said, “Are you going to get a hot dog again? You know I can cook other things than dogs.” I learned plenty of other things in the time it took me to eat the eggs and biscuits and gravy that she prepared like “mama used to make.”  When it was time for us to leave, we were told, “You ain’t been here if you haven’t signed my guestbook.” (Have you ever been to a restaurant where you signed a guestbook like you were at a wedding or funeral?  Me neither.) I signed it.

Rosy has to be the reason her diner is #1 on YELP.  It wasn’t for the décor. I doubt anything has changed in her 19 years of ownership.  It wasn’t for the biscuits and gravy (her mama should have used a different recipe).  But Rosy’s love for her diner and the people who entered through her door was evident. We were treated like long lost friends.  Even though this troll lives below the Mackinaw bridge and had never been to Escanaba, I felt like Rosy was family. I would go back again and again just to see Rosy and her boisterous personality in action.

The church needs to be more like Rosy’s Diner and less like some fine dining establishment with table cloths and fancy dinner music. Warm is better than cool. Our love should be evident and contagious just like at Rosy’s place. Some of the things we get bent out of shape over (décor, worship style, and proper decorum), are not nearly as important as newcomers feeling less like visitors and more like long lost family returning home. It the church were more like Rosy’s Diner even strangers would feel like family; we’d tell our stories and want to hear theirs; we’d know each other and we’d be known; we’d be honest and say things like “Hey, where have you been” if you’ve had less than frequent attendance, and we’d probably all leave smelling like grease. But I don’t think anyone would mind.

God’s Money or Our Money?

Down through the years I have had people try to manipulate the church because of finances.  Probably every pastor has had a person threaten to quit tithing because of some dumb reason.  When pastoring in the early 90’s in Michigan (FYI: we build cars in Michigan), I had an auto worker parishioner threaten to quit paying his tithe if I drove a foreign car (I’ve never owned a foreign can, wasn’t thinking about buying one, and probably my auto worker dad would have written me out of his will too).  Still I didn’t like that he tried to hold God hostage to my automobile preference. I resisted the temptation to tell him that the Bible says the early disciples drove a Honda. It’s true. In the book of Acts, Luke says they were “all in one Accord.” (That’s a dumb joke, even if you think robbing God of His tithe is a legitimate form of protest). Another time a man wanted to give his nephew $10,000, but his plan was to give the money to the church (so he could get a tax write off) and then have the church give the money to his nephew. He was going to toss the church a few hundred dollars for our troubles.  Can you say “money-laundering,” boys and girls? I did not ask if he would also start calling me “Rev. Al Capone” if we agreed to his plan. I simply told him, “Thanks but no thanks.” Moreover, we have all heard tales of TV preachers who went on the air begging for money from the gullible viewers with promises of God blessing their “seed money,” only to be discovered living a lavish lifestyle off of the money given. I saw that one such preacher recently drove to church in his $325,000 automobile, that’s a far cry from Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. No wonder Paul told Timothy “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”(1 Timothy 6:10).

There have always been con-artists and profiteers who have tried to make a buck off of the church. In Acts 8, there is a crazy story about a guy named Simon who is described as a “sorcerer.” Some versions call him a “witch doctor.” The basic facts are: he offered to pay for the ability to lay his hands on people so that they might receive the Holy Spirit. As you could imagine, Peter was less than enthused by his offer and replied, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.  Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.  For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” (Acts 8:20-23).  Take that as a great big “No” from Peter regarding Simon’s scheme.  God’s blessings weren’t for sale.

How we handle the money and blessings God provides are important. The question for us is what are we doing with what God has given us?  Are we using his blessings for His glory or ours?  Are we praying “Thy kingdom come” or “My kingdom come”? I’ve seen too many people like Simon get their eyes on money or other things instead of Jesus, and have also observed how bad behaviors or attitudes like Simon’s that can lead to a dangerous or wicked place. The bottom line is this: Seek the Lord, not money. Seek the Lord, not glory.  Seek the Lord, not even happiness.  Seek the Lord, not the approval of others. Seek the Lord, not some supernatural abilities and gifts. Seek the Lord, not anything else and He will supply everything you truly need!

 

Five Tips for my fellow Male Pastors Regarding Women in Ministry

I’m glad for my denomination’s stance on women in ministry, I’m glad that we have always had female pastors and leaders. I’m glad we have a female General Superintendent (Carla Sunberg), that we elected a female DS this summer (Rose Brower-Young on the Canada West District) and I’m glad that one of our large, historical churches (Pasadena First Church is pastored by a woman (Tara Beth Leach). Having said that, (instead of complaining that we aren’t doing enough, which, by the way, we aren’t providing enough opportunities), allow me to offer my fellow male pastors some tips on ways we can do better:

1).  Hire Female Staff members.  (And not just in the children’s area.  In a moment of full disclosure both of the children’s pastors at my church are female and they are great, but we also have another female pastor on staff.  In past churches I have pastored we have had female visitation pastors, middle school pastors, evangelism pastors, and discipleship pastors).

2).  Enlist Female Role Model Preachers.  Find the best female preachers and invite them to speak at revivals, mission’s gatherings, special services, whatever.  Give those who are being called positive role models.

3). Preach about God calling woman and men.  Remind your congregation that God needs female voices as well as male voices to reach this generation.

4).  Let Young Preacher’s Preach.  When God calls these females to preach (and God will) let them preach. Give them opportunities. This past Sunday night, one of our young preacher’s preached. She did great! She did far better than I would have done as a 19-year-old, I guarantee you that! She is talented and called and will be a great pastor one day.

5).  Encourage your District Leadership to include female preachers on interview lists of churches and to serve as interim and supply preachers, schedule women preachers for pastors’ retreats (not just for the spouses of the ministers at such retreats) but as the actual main speaker and for events like camp meetings and District Assembly and Pastors’ Day enrichment experiences.

If we truly believe Peter’s words in his Pentecost sermon where he quoted the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams. Acts 2:17

 Then do all you can to encourage your daughters to prophesy along with your sons.  Call them to follow God’s calling upon their life and encourage them to become the Women of Christ that God will use for the Kingdom’s glory!