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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ten Things Pastors Desire in a Church Member

By Thom Rainer

January 19, 2013 
I was surprised at the stir created by my blogpost earlier this week, “Ten Things Church Members Desire in a Pastor.” When I did the initial survey and wrote an article on it, I viewed it as just a fun exercise that would get minimal attention. I was wrong. The article hit a nerve.

One of the many commenters suggested I conduct a similar exercise and find out what pastors desire in a church member. I took that as a friendly and helpful suggestion. As a result, I interviewed 23 pastors with a simple and open-ended question, “What do you desire in church member?” The pastors could respond with an unlimited number of desires, but most pastors mentioned fewer than four.

Here are their responses in order of frequency. As in my previous article, I note the desire and follow it with a representative quote.

Vibrant prayer life. “While I do want church members to pray for me specifically, I really want them to pray faithfully in all matters.”

Spirit of unity. “I want our church members to be uncompromising on cardinal issues, but I also want them to be willing to yield to others on minor issues and issues of preference.”

Respect of pastor’s family. “It’s okay if my family is not given preferential treatment by the church. We really want it that way. But I don’t want church members to have unreasonable expectations on my wife and kids just because their husband and dad is the pastor.”

Members who are critical to my face. “Like most people, I don’t like criticism. But I know it goes with the territory. I would just ask that any critics speak to me directly instead of speaking about me behind my back.”

Encouragers. “I don’t have to be applauded for everything I do, but I sure do appreciate those members who are the encouragers in my life. I don’t know what I would do without them.”

Faithful attendees. “I’m really not numbers obsessed, but when people faithfully attend worship services and small groups, I know the church is important to their lives.”

Members who share their faith. “I’ve been in ministry 34 years. The most faithful church members who make a difference in my life and the church are those who are consistent in sharing their faith.”

Members who lead their families spiritually. “The church can only do so much for families spiritually. But it’s great when both the church and family leaders work together to grow disciples in their own families.”

Members who confront other members for being negative and critical. “It really is a great feeling to know there are members in the church that have my back. Sometimes criticism of me is justified; but on other occasions the criticism comes from one of a small number of people.”

Members who read the Bible regularly. “I can’t ever remember a member who reads the Bible daily who became a challenge in the church. It just seems like people in the Word don’t act like people in the world.”

From here

Friday, January 18, 2013

Troubles in the Land of TEC

From Virtue Online 1/17/2013 

Many, perhaps most, Christian congregations in the United States are approaching an ecclesial fiscal cliff, says George Clifford an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. "For specifics, consider The Episcopal Church (TEC). From 2007 through 2011 (the last year for which data is available), the number of parishes declined from 7055 to 6736 (6.5%), the number of Episcopalians declined from 2.1 to 1.9 million (9.1%), and average Sunday attendance declined from 727,822 to 657,887 (9.6%). The 2011 mean average Sunday attendance was 97; median average Sunday attendance was 65 (half of all congregations were above 65 and half below); and 68% of our congregations reported an average Sunday attendance of fewer than 100.

"If those numbers are insufficiently grim, consider attendance in the context of finances.

"The average pledge in 2011 was $2410. Optimistically assuming that a congregation's number of pledging units equals its average Sunday attendance, then the average income for Episcopal congregations in 2011 was $233,770. (Surprisingly, that assumption is not too far off the mark in terms of total income per congregation. In 2010 (last available year), average income per TEC congregation was $244,719.) For an Episcopal congregation whose average Sunday attendance was 67 (the median for TEC, with half of our congregations being larger and half-smaller), income from 67 pledgers who gave the denominational average would be $161,470. (All data from the TEC research office's website.)

"What can $162,000 - or even $244,000 - in revenue support for an Episcopal congregation in 2012 or 2013? The diocesan asking is generally 10% or more of pledge income. A full-time priest can easily cost a congregation $100,000 in stipend, housing, pension, healthcare coverage, and any other benefits. Operating a building (utilities, insurance, cleaning, perhaps a mortgage) probably runs upward, and perhaps substantially upwards, of $30,000. Allowing for other items deemed essential (audits, music, religious education materials, etc.), an average sized congregation can quickly find itself in a position of having insufficient funds to operate in accordance with members' expectations.

"A growing number of congregations, perhaps already a plurality within TEC, are insufficient to pay the diocesan asking, fund a full-time priest, and properly maintain their physical plant. Deferred maintenance on the physical plant is perhaps the most common means of covering a revenue shortfall. Other options include spending endowment funds' principal, reneging on the diocesan asking, and eliminating perceived "essentials" (such as a paid musician, fresh religious education materials, etc.). Many congregations rely on several of these strategies.

"Each year, the speed with which this ecclesial fiscal cliff approaches accelerates. Attendance declines, expenses increase, and options for covering financial shortfalls diminish. Episcopalians' average age, perhaps somewhere between 50 and 60, which portends growing numbers of losses from death, seems likely to compound the speed with which the ecclesial fiscal cliff draws near because TEC membership gains widely lag losses due to death and other causes."

Also from Virtue Online 

The irony should not be missed. The Episcopal News Service has launched a new section for obituaries. In response to readers' requests, Episcopal News Service is expanding its offerings and now provides a special area of reader-submitted obituaries. "The new section of the Episcopal News Service website has been designed to allow people to submit their own Episcopal-related obituaries in an easy, user-friendly manner."

Meanwhile VOL announces a new link at its website for dying and for sale parishes across North America. Please don't hesitate to send us stories of closing churches. We will publish them promptly.

From here 

Five Necessary Elements for an Evangelism Ethos

I have read a lot of books on evangelism, and my two favorite are Bill Hybels ’Just Walk Across the Room and Mark Dever’s The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. Yes, I see the irony in that. They are very different books—but I like them for different reasons.
As I recently read through Hybels’ book, I identified 5 helpful features that I think are necessary for an evangelistic ethos, either in an individual Christian or in an entire church.

1. Intentionality & Sensitivity to the Spirit (35–54)

Hybels writes, “I’m more convinced than ever the absolute highest value in personal evangelism is staying in tune and cooperating with the Holy Spirit” (35). We don’t hear this nearly as much as we should. We don’t build the kingdom for God; we let God build it through us. That’s why the first command given to the apostles in Acts is to wait. Until the Spirit arrived, they could do nothing.

This is the only way to keep from being overwhelmed by the massive task of evangelism. God does not expect us to convert people; he invites us to walk with him and be his instrument as he builds the church. That is something we should do every day.
Sometimes there is a wide open door, other times not. But that should not stop us from instigating the conversation. Honestly, only about 1 in every 5 of my attempts to have a spiritual conversation turn out well. Just because it turns out poorly does not mean that God is not in it. Stephen witnessed to Paul and was stoned, but that was definitely Spirit-filled evangelism!

I have heard that the average person has to hear the gospel 12 times before they believe. We may get the joy of being that 12th person, or we may be one link in the chain. But the Spirit has a role for us.

You perceive when a door is being opened through prayer. Therefore, pray continually and listen as you pray.

2. Practical ways to get into the conversation (158–160)

Throughout the book Hybels gives you numerous “conversation openers,” and I found particularly helpful his question suggestions on pp. 158-160. These were conversation starters you could actually use, as opposed to cheesy, awkward, forced questions I’ve often been taught. “If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?” (Side note: Why is everyone always dying at night?), or ”What opinions about God do you have that I could correct?” Not that those are wrong (or at least the first one is not), but Hybels gives you a few more questions for your arsenal.

3. Models

The best way to learn to share Christ is by watching someone else. That’s how I learned! I watched my dad and other believers share the gospel. A book cannot in itself be a “model,” but Hybels both offers stories to encourage us and pushes us to learn from other Christians.

4. An Ability to Share Your Story Concisely (115–131)

Entrepreneurs have what they call an “elevator speech” for their product: even though they could talk for hours and hours about it, they force themselves to condense things down to a 45-second summary. We should have an “elevator speech” for our story too: 100 words or less that explains how Christ met our “felt” needs, which sets us up for a sharing of the actual gospel. (NOTE: your story of how Christ met your felt needs is NOT the actual gospel, just an intro to it).

5. An Ability to Share the “Actual” Gospel Concisely (133–140)

Just as we need to have a polished “elevator speech” of our story, we should be able to express the gospel in 100 words or less too. Far from making our presentation insincere, this helps us to appreciate the gospel in fresh ways. Hybels mentions some classic presentations that I’ve seen and used: the bridge illustration (Jesus bridges the gap between us and God) and the do/done dichotomy (Religions are all about doing; the gospel is all about what Christ has done.).

Hybels does not do, IMO, a great job of helping you understand gospel doctrine in this book. He is superb at equipping you for evangelism that engages hearers on the plain of their felt-needs, but less-helpful at equipping you to share as a “gospel-prophet” commissioned to warn others of impending judgment and preaching salvation in Christ. Both are necessary dimensions to being an effective evangelist, which is why I’d encourage you to read Dever’s The Gospel and Personal Evangelism along with this one.

 Found here

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Why Young Churches Want Old Buildings

From the Gospel Coalition Blog

The story of St. Vincent de Paul, a Roman Catholic church in Louisville, Kentucky, is like many others in our age of changing religious and economic dynamics. Cornerstone laid in 1878. Slowly abandoned as the neighborhood deteriorated into one of the most dangerous in the United States. Finally sold. But here the story takes an unexpected turn, because the building has recently enjoyed a $4 million makeover from a young, vibrant, and growing congregation.

Sojourn Community Church began meeting in an arts center in Louisville's Germantown neighborhood before it purchased St. Vincent de Paul a few years back from the local archdiocese. The upgrades signal a multifaceted effort by Sojourn to trust God for spiritual and economic renewal in this inner city neighborhood. In fact, Sojourn is one of several prominent churches across the country undertaking multimillion-dollar renovation projects to breathe new life into historic churches or other structures, instead of building a contemporary big-box.
Sojourn's Midtown campus meets this summer in the new facility for the first time.
"I think it's a wonderful thing to kind of reclaim, restore, and renew a place," said Daniel Montgomery Sojourn's lead and founding pastor. "I think it's a picture of the gospel as well that Christ is making all things new, but at the same time I think people love contemporary. Are people attracted to old? Yes. Are people attracted to the contemporary? Yes. We want to make it really clear that we are not the first to step into the scene. We are just one of many in this larger story."
Montgomery said Protestants often have a low view of church buildings. That has changed over the past decade, as many churches grow to appreciate the role of art and beauty. For better or for worse, a space can shape a person or a person can shape the space, he said.
"I think a lot of it is platonic dualism between sacred and secular," he said. "We make false dichotomies where the scriptures don't actually have these dichotomies."
When Sojourn began looking for a new facility a few years back, it wanted to remain rooted in the same inner city neighborhood. But finding a building was difficult until the local archdiocese put St. Vincent de Paul up for sale for $500,000. The church celebrated its first post-renovation service in late August. Within months of purchasing the building, Sojourn received a $2 million gift toward the project.
"It really was a confluence of factors," Montgomery said of the decision to purchase the aged building. "It was timing in our history, proximity in our current location. It was definitely the beauty of space. I remember being in seminary 13 or 14 years ago and they said: write down your ideal worship experience. I remember writing down walking into a cathedral where there is solid expositional preaching. It's very surreal to me, looking at dreams that were on my heart years ago that came together."

Tool, Not a Goal

Churches in Seattle, Kansas City, and St. Louis have also recently completed or are working on renovation projects. Mars Hill Church in Seattle celebrated a grand opening last Sunday as one campus officially moved from the city's Belltown neighborhood into one of the city's oldest church buildings, First United Methodist Church. The facility, where several of Seattle's founding families once worshiped, was nearly demolished years ago until the Washington Supreme Court decided in favor of a lawsuit to keep it standing. It was eventually sold to Seattle developer Kevin Daniels for $32 million.
The congregation gathers at the Mars Hill Church downtown campus on Christas Eve. 
A couple years ago, Mars Hill began looking at moving closer to the heart of downtown and approached Daniels about First United Methodist, according to Tim Gaydos, Mars Hill's lead pastor of the downtown location. At first, Daniels wasn't interested in selling the property, but after many conversations with Gaydos about his vision for Mars Hill's role in area, he agreed to lease with the possibility of purchasing.
"We developed a great foundation in Belltown and saw Belltown really flourish through the ministry of our people," Gaydos said. "Now that will continue, and we can replicate that in many other neighborhoods in central city. I'm pretty excited about it."
A 2008 survey by LifeWay Research found that "unchurched adults"---those who hadn't attended a church, mosque, or synagogue in the past six months other than for holidays or events---are more turned off to utilitarian buildings. More Americans prefer a medieval cathedral to a contemporary church building. Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, at the time said the findings surprised him, but suggested the look of a Gothic cathedral was more likely to connect visitors with the past.
"A church building is a tool and not a goal," Stetzer told me. "When choosing a tool, you need the right one for the right job. As such, I'd be discerning in what kind of church will help advance the mission of the church in the community. For many churches, they've found older mainline church buildings to be such a tool---connecting them with the community, its history, and even with a sense that the (big-C) Church did not start when theirs did."
David Gobel, an architectural history professor at Savannah College of Art and Design, says churches---like civic or commercial institutions---are "building public statements about their identity" when they build a building.
"According to John Calvin, the chief principle governing public worship is decorum, a concept that describes how we are to behave, dress, and, I would add, build," Gobel wrote in 2011. "Decorum is a general principle that encompasses propriety, gracefulness, dignity and, yes, beauty. Indeed, these are the qualities that should be sought in church architecture. The dignity, decorum, and beauty that we seek in designing places for public worship should extend to the external witness of the church."

Ultimate Beauty

Redeemer Fellowship in Kansas City is still in the process of a project in the city's Westport neighborhood. The church moved into the building when it began in 2009 and is now in the middle of a capital campaign. The plan is to go beyond the $1 million deferred maintenance needed in the beginning and to raise another $2 million to renovate the sanctuary and other areas.
Historically, evangelical churches in Kansas City have left the urban core and moved to suburbs, according to Redeemer's sexton, Joshua Murray. But Redeemer wanted to plant in the city center to see the whole city renewed.
"One of the core values of our church is beauty, and the sanctuary is certainly beautiful," he said. "It's an ancient structure with high-level craftsmanship, which we think is beautiful. The rest of the building is pretty utilitarian, pretty plain, and built with a different ideal. We believe the structure should be beautiful, so we're not only going trying to help it function better, but it also reflects the beauty we see in the gospel."
Conversation about beauty often becomes a conversation about worship, according to Andy Bean, head of Redeemer's strategy and implementation. He said the church's passion for space is built from a desire to point to the ultimate display of beauty.
"Because that's the thing about a building, or work of art, or even a sunset in the mountain," Bean said. "You can engage beautiful objects or spaces, but they don't ultimately satisfy your longing to encounter beauty. Beauty is designed to point to something beyond itself, and in that sense our passion for space is born out of a desire to have every aspect of someone's experience with Redeemer point them to Jesus, as the one who is sufficiently and ultimately beautiful."
Martin Swant is a journalist currently based in Huntsville, Alabama. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he has worked as a writer and editor in New York, Brussels, Missouri, and his home state of Minnesota. 

Largest Pittsburgh-Area Houses of Worship

Last week The Pittsburgh Business Times published their list of the largest Pittsburgh-Area Houses of Worship.  The ranking was based on "Individual Members".  However, "Family Members" and "Average Weekly Attendance" were also listed.  The largest was St. Ferdinand Roman Catholic Parish in Cranberry Township with 10,949 individual members, 3,655 family members and an average weekly attendance of 3,443.   Interestingly only one Protestant Church was listed among the largest 30 churches - ranked number seven is Mt. Ararat Baptist Church in East Liberty, a predominantly African American congregation with 9,000 members.  Mt Ararat is the largest church listed in terms of average weekly attendance at 4,800.  Interestingly 29 of the 30 largest houses of worship in the Pittsburgh area are Roman Catholic and almost all of them in the suburbs.  I would have thought a few United Methodist or Presbyterian churches would be on the list and certainly non-denominational powerhouses Northway Christian Community or Victory Christian Fellowship both in the North Hills and the Bible Chapel in the South Hills would have made it but obviously I mis-thought.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Christian Witness of Roberto Clemente

Published in the On the Square column of First Things Journal on January 14, 2013.  Written by William Doino Jr.

Watching Roberto Clemente play baseball was to have seen the game at its best, but to have known him as a man, and appreciate him as a leader, was even better. Forty years after his death, in a tragic plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972, Clemente’s stature only continues to grow.

Born in Carolina, Puerto Rico on August 18, 1934, to Luisa and Melchor Clemente, Roberto was the youngest of seven siblings. At the time, the country was in a deep and prolonged depression. When Roberto turned six, “average income per person in Puerto Rico was about thirty cents a day,” notes biographer Kal Wagenheim:

The average life span was only forty-six years, as thousands of infants died of diarrhea, gastroenteritis, pneumonia, and influenza, and hundreds of thousands of adults were weakened by intestinal parasites. In Roberto’s barrio of San Anton, it was not rare to see the neighbors solemnly bearing a tiny wooden casket—a dead infant—to the cemetery.

The outbreak of Word War II provoked a blockade around the Caribbean, making the situation even worse. But it was precisely during those trying times that the future baseball star learned the value of faith, hard work, and family bonds. Luisa was a Baptist, Melchor a Catholic, and their home became a place “where sharp lines divided right and wrong,” writes Wagenheim. But it was a strictness imbued with exceptional love, designed to build character, and Roberto always appreciated that:

When I was a boy, I realized what lovely persons my father and mother were. . . . I learned the right way to live. I never heard any hate in my house. Not for anybody. I never heard my mother say a bad word to my father, or my father to my mother. During the War, when food all over Puerto Rico was limited, we never went hungry. They always found a way to feed us. We kids were first, and they were second.

His parents encouraged their children to excel in school and extra-curricular events. Roberto joined his first baseball team when he was eight, but local deprivations made his introduction to the game somewhat unusual: “His first bat was fashioned from the branch of a guava tree,” writes Wagenheim, “a glove was improvised from a coffee bean sack, and the ball was a tight knot of rags.” No matter; the youngster enjoyed the game all the more.

In fact, it became his abiding passion. His relatives and friends tried to temper his expectations, but Roberto was determined. “I wanted to be a ballplayer. I became convinced God wanted me to.”

When he was nineteen, the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Clemente to play for their Montreal farm club; but when Brooklyn made the blunder of leaving him off their roster, the Pittsburgh Pirates swooped in to draft him. “I didn’t even know where Pittsburgh was,” Roberto would say. He soon would, and even more so, would the city come to know him.

His career reads like something out of a script. David Maraniss, his most recent biographer, summarizes:

Eighteen seasons in the big leagues, all with the Pittsburgh Pirates, two World Series championships, four batting titles, an MVP award, twelve Gold Gloves as a right fielder, leading the league in assists five times, and—with a line double into the gap at Three Rivers Stadium in his final at-bat of the 1972 season—exactly three thousand hits.

Even though Jackie Robinson had broken the color line almost a decade before, discrimination was far from conquered when Clemente entered the Majors (1955). He learned that every time he ate on the team bus, unable to enter segregated restaurants; and when certain sportswriters quoted his broken English verbatim, making him sound unintelligent, which he certainly wasn’t. But he was comforted by the support he received from sympathetic teammates, particularly those who shared his Christian faith and values. Among them was Frank Thomas, who played with the Pirates during Clemente’s first four years (1955-1958), and who was happy to share memories about Roberto: “He was shy and it took him time to deal with the new surroundings, but he knew he had our support, on and off the playing field.”

As he came into his prime during the 1960s, Clemente began to speak about civil rights, and against injustice anywhere. After his friend and personal hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was slain in 1968, Roberto asked his team to delay the start of their season, to honor the great civil rights leader during his burial. They obliged.

Clemente’s determination to prove the full equality of minorities, and inspire the underprivileged he did so much to help, propelled him to strive for even greater heights on the playing field. In the 1971 World Series, at the age of 37, Clemente led his team to a second world championship, hitting an amazing .414 against the heralded Baltimore Orioles pitching staff, which had four twenty-game winners. Boog Powell, the Orioles First Baseman, marveled: “Nobody hit .400 off our pitching staff. Maybe off of one pitcher . . . a guy might have one guy’s number, but not our whole pitching staff.”

In one memorable game, Clemente hit the wall head first, caught the ball, tumbled down, and held on. When one sportswriter told him, “Roberto, I’ve seen you play a lot of games, and that’s the best catch I’ve ever seen you make,” Clemente replied, with quiet confidence, “If the ball is in the park, and the game is on the line, I will catch the ball.”

Yet in all the discussions about Clemente that have marked the anniversary of his death, there has been one thing largely missing from these otherwise moving tributes—the centrality of his faith to his life and work.

“My husband was a very religious man,” his wife Vera told the Pittsburgh Catholic. “His faith guided him to help others.” Father Alvin Gutierrez, who knew the Clementes well, and concelebrated a memorial Mass several days after Clemente’s sudden passing, underscored that, and stressed the importance of Roberto’s “Catholic ethos” to me.

Nowhere was that more apparent than in the jubilant locker room after the 1971 World Series. When he was awarded the Series MVP, he thanked the presenter in English, then immediately spoke in Spanish, blessing his family, thanking his parents, and asking for their blessing as well on “the most important day of my life.” It was a moment all Latinos who saw remember with pride and emotion—and still moves anyone who watches it today. “With Roberto it was always faith and family first, everything else second,” said Father Gutierrez. Just like his parents had taught him, back in Puerto Rico.

In fact, it was the Hall of Famer’s faith that led to him to offer his life for the sake of others. After an earthquake struck Nicaragua and caused mass suffering, Roberto was determined to rush relief supplies to the country, and he wanted to take them in person, to make sure they got to the victims. But his plane crashed shortly after takeoff, and he died at sea, on his humanitarian mission.

Christians don’t often think of athletes as witnesses for their faith—especially these days in a sports world marred by greed, illegal drugs and scandal—but if ever there was one, it was Roberto Clemente. He was not just a baseball star, but one of Heaven’s as well.

Found here