Monday, July 30, 2007

God Showed Up at Our Unified Service

Thanks for any and all prayers that were offered on behalf of our Unified Service yesterday.

God showed up and made the day a great success. The Transition Team and many others are already saying that they believe that 15 years from now that people will look back on yesterday as a "watershed" event in the life of the church.

I know that we still have much work to do for complete reconciliation and healing. But there were many, many people who were talking to each other and hugging each other that I have not seen even speak to each other in the last three years. The 15-20 minutes of time when people were coming to the cross and to the communion table as a "place of forgiveness" were some of the most heart warming of my life. All across our gym you could groups of 2 or 3 huddled together making peace with each other.

Today is a day that I thank God for the opportunity of serving in the ministry. I am thankful for:
- A church where the leadership was willing to say, "our church is not healthy and we want to get back to spiritual health". This leadership team put their money where their mouth was and spent the needed funds for my intentional interim training and the costs of operating a Transition Team and several congregational events this year.
- Transition Team members that are humble servants of the church, intent learners of a new style of ministry, willing workers and have a spirit of cooperation. They are serving a model of what Christian group life should look like.
- A group of prayer warriors that will intercede before God on behalf of me and the church. Many hours of planning and preparation had been invested in the Unified Service. But only God could produce the harvest of reconciliation that our congregation needed.
- A wife who supports me in ministry. Being an intentional interim has increased my work. I am physically and emotionally away from her more now than ever before. Yet she gives me her support and the freedom needed to serve our church.

Our Transition Team is taking a much deserved two week break from their work. The team had nine meetings and an overnight retreat during June and July. When next we meet we will pick up the task of "Looking at Denominational and External Relationships". What does that mean? My one sentence answer is: We will try to figure out what it means to be a Wesleyan Church in Bessemer City.

I will be blogging about something during the next two weeks. So check back in and see what I may have posted. God bless you all!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Church: Where Forgiven Saints Live Out the Gospel

Last Sunday I preached a message about how the church should be a "safe place" to confess and correct our sins. I gave a definition of the church that I had found in the book "Making Peace" by Jim Van Yperen. Here is a summary of my remarks:

The Church is the Realm where Forgiven Saints Live out the Gospel.

Realm – not a building or a place but a spiritual space where Jesus Christ is Lord or King. Often this space is also referred to as the “kingdom of God”.

Forgiven – the basis of our unity or coming together is that we are all sinners. The one and only thing that we all have in common is that we understand that we have all done wrong and believe that Christ’s death, not our good works, is that which will justify us before God.

Saints – we are not only sinners who are being saved by Jesus Christ but we are also being sanctified, made holy, by the Holy Spirit. As we submit to King Jesus, His Holy Spirit transforms us, changes us, and makes us to be like our King. We may each be at different points in the process but we are all surrendered to God’s work in our lives.

Live Out – Faith in Christ not only changes how we think and what we believe; it changes how we behave. Being a part of the church means that we share life together. We experience life in community (with one another) as we share this new life with our community.

Gospel – Showing and sharing the good news that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord to all who will believe.

I also identified four congregational sins that our church needs to address. They are:

1) Self-Centeredness – We live in a culture where we are taught that everything is about “me”. Society has a consumer mentality and we have brought that mentality into the church. If I come to church thinking that all the services and ministries are suppose to cater to me and meet my needs it becomes impossible for me to obey the Scriptures that tell me to submit to one another and to serve one another.

2) Uncontrolled Tongues – James says that “no one can tame the tongue” and we have proven him to be right. There is gossip, grumbling, complaining, backbiting, slander, and reckless talk in our congregation. Just because the same is true in other churches does not excuse us of this sinful behavior. We need to think better of one another and speak better of and to one another.

3) Spiritual Pride – Having the status as the largest church in Bessemer City and one of the largest in the district has caused us to yield to the temptation of thinking that we “have arrived” and are “big stuff”. Pride is the root of all others sins so it is especially dangerous to us. We need to humble ourselves before the One who has enabled us to have all that we have.

4) Bitterness – For most members, the church is an integral part of their lives. So when we or someone close to us is hurt or offended in the church it is easy to become bitter. We so quickly carry an offense when we perceive that we are wronged and pick up offenses when we see our loved ones hurt or harmed. But the Bible repeatedly tells us that when we experience God’s forgiveness for our offenses that we will be forgiving of others who have offended us. It is not easy, but God can help us to forgive those who have trespassed against us.

Our Unified Service is fast approaching. We are praying that God will help us to release and repent of our past so that we can move forward into the future He has planned for us.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Book Review: Antagonists in the Church

Subtitle: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict. Written by: Kenneth C. Haugk (you may know the name from Stephen Ministries). This book was written in 1988 but I just discovered it a few weeks ago. I found it to be very practical and filled with suggestions that should be helpful to pastors and church leaders.

Who are antagonists? "Individuals who on the basis of nonsubstantive evidence, go out of their way to make insatiable demands, usually attacking the person or performance of others. These attacks are selfish in nature, tearing down rather than building up, and are frequently directed against those in a leadership capacity."

Haugk gives personality characteristics and warning signs for identifying antagonists in the church. He also devotes about 35 pages to presenting ways to prevent antagonism in the church.

The last 70 pages of the book are focused on dealing with antagonism. I found the chapter discussing how to meet and confront an antagonist one on one to be affirming.

Bottom line: Once you have clearly identified an antagonist in the church you relate to him/her in an entirely different manner than how you would normally relate to other people. An antagonist must be confronted from a position of power and strength.

The book is an easy read but filled with good ideas that pastors and church leaders need to know before an antagonist rises up to cause conflict in the body of Christ.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Prayer Vigil

The Transition Team is calling for a 24 hour prayer vigil during the weekend of our Unified Service. The vigil will start at 10 pm on Friday, July 27th and continue until 10 pm on Saturday, July 28th. People will pray in their homes on Friday night and may pray at the church or at home during the day on Saturday. The sanctuary will be opened at 8 am on Saturday and remain open until 10 pm for prayer.

Sign up sheets will be available throughout the church buildings and in the Sunday School classrooms the next two Sundays. People may also indicate their chosen time to pray on their Friendship Cards that are placed in the offering plates at the Sunday services.

But please don't wait until the vigil to start to pray. Our congregation needs for God to do a mighty work in and through us. May it begin during the Unified Service as we confess our offenses to others and forgive those who have committed offenses against us.

On a lighter note, the men of the Transition Team will be providing home-made ice cream on for the Sunday night service of July 29th. This will give an opportunity for the congregation to fellowship and to reflect on the impact of the Unified Service that morning.

Also, I will be leaving on Saturday morning, July 14th, for a week of vacation with the family (my wife - Pam, daughter - Elizabeth, and son in law - Trey) at the Outer Banks. So any posting next week will be reflections of our time in the sun and sand.

Recent reading: If you want people to come to church - have a fight, feast or funeral.
(There is almost too much truth in that statement to handle.)

Friday, July 6, 2007

Unified Service Plans

This week the Transition Team sent a letter of invitation to all our church attenders inviting them to the July 29th Unified Service. Normally our church has two worship services (at 9 & 11 am with Sunday School in between at 10 am). On July 29th we will have a continental breakfast starting at 9 am. The Unified Service will begin at 9:30 with an opening assembly. Adults will then break into small groups for discussion around the following two questions:
1. If you met someone expressing interest in our church, what good things would you tell them about First Wesleyan Church?
2. What disappointing moments in our church’s history do you wish could be changed?

After the small group discussions all the adults will reconvene for a closing assembly. The focus of this closing assembly will be to acknowledge our past failures and to grant forgiveness to those who have failed us. The assembly will end with The Lord's Supper as we celebrate this forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Transition Team sent a five question survey to the congregation with the invitation letter. This survey will help our church attenders focus on the purpose of the Unified Service. Everyone has been asked to return these surveys by July 22nd. These surveys may also provide the team will guidance as they make final preparations for the service. The five questions are:
1. How have you experienced Christ’s love from other members of the church?
2. Briefly describe when you have been most disappointed with the church?
3. What do you think have been the biggest hindrances in the church’s numerical and spiritual growth in recent years?
4. What issues do you hope the transition team will address this year?
5. What are the most important things the church has contributed to your life?

Please continue to pray for our July 29th Unified Service.