congregation

Separate Yet Together

The congregation is Mr. Potatohead.

OK. So, stick with me here. In the Toy Story movies, Mr. Potatohead’s various pieces are all alive and form one character. If you take his eyes off his, um, potato head, the eyes can still see for him. Though separated, his various pieces all form one character, one person. Obviously he prefers to be together in one place, but he’s functional when apart, too.

So right now, the congregation can’t come together. We are denied our weekly worship. We cannot commune together as we normally would. And potlucks? Right out!

But we are still one body in Christ.

We’ve been finding unique ways to exercise that oneness. Every week I prepare worship and post it on Youtube for the congregation to watch. But Sunday morning, I also host fellowship and Bible study time, three times every Sunday morning. The congregation lets me know which one they want to come to. I send invitations to those who want them, and we video conference for about an hour at a time.

Why divide it up into three and not do it all at once? This way, the group is small enough that we can actually talk to each other. It’s not just me talking at a bunch of faces; it’s actually seeing and talking with each other.

And I gotta tell you: It’s awesome.

The congregation is asking about one another, calling one another, supporting each other. I’ve got a few people coming to every single video conference so they can see everyone and encourage more people.

We are apart. But we are still together. And it is Jesus that unites us. He’s our head.

You can separate the body of Christ, but you cannot separate us from Christ. He holds us fast. And as long as he’s got us, well, we’ve got each other too, don’t we?

And as Jesus longs to be with us, as his love moved him to leave heaven to rescue us, we long for each other. We can’t be together now, but we still long to be together.

And until that day when we’ll be reunited, we shall continue to long for each other. For now that means video conferences. For now that means being separate. And that’s ok.

We’ll be together again.

Maybe not in this world, and that’s ok, too. It means we get to party together before the Throne.

And there, nothing will ever separate us again.

Boy, that escalated quickly!

Less than two months ago, my congregation started offering Communion every week… kind of.

We usually offer the Sacrament on the second and fourth Sunday of the month. Starting December 1, we began offering “after-service Communion.” Basically, after everyone was dismissed from the sanctuary, we offered Communion to anyone who wanted to stick around. It’s proven to be somewhat popular, with roughly a third of the congregation sticking around to receive the Sacrament.

I mentioned the numbers at the last church council meeting, and the president suggested I bring it up for discussion at our congregational meeting. Bring what up for discussion? Why, simply offering the Sacrament every single week as part of the worship service. I had planned on waiting at least another quarter before doing anything like that, but sure. Why not?

So today it was brought up at the congregational meeting.

And the congregation, by show of hands, said that for the next quarter they want to try offering Communion every week. Not a single person spoke or voted against it.

Just… wow, that was fast! In the course of two months we went from no one mentioning anything to me about wanting the Sacrament more often, to the congregation deciding it was worth trying to offer it weekly. Starting a week from today.

There’s some kinks to work out, like who is setting up and cleaning up after, how it will effect the flow of the service (the congregation doesn’t want to give up the different feel of non-Communion liturgies we use), and the like.

That said, we’ll be embarking on this experiment rather quickly. I’m both excited about it and a little nervous. This shakes things up here in a way I wasn’t expecting!

But in a good way.

After all, more of the Sacrament, more of the forgiveness you can taste and see, more of Jesus given out, that’s a good thing, you know?

Anyway.

Just wanted to share the surprising result of today’s congregational meeting!

NO MOAR VISITING

man old depressed headache

Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pexels.com

I didn’t visit the woman who wanted me to pray with her before her surgery.

She’s a dear woman, loved by the congregation, deeply valued by many others. She went in for a very painful surgery last week.

I didn’t go visit her.

She’s home now. In pain. Her family is taking care of her. The congregation has set up a rotation to bring her meals.

I still haven’t visited her.

And it’s not that I’m too busy. Honestly, the last couple weeks have been relatively laid-back. Yeah, I’m still putting plenty of hours into ministry, but I have the time to go see a woman in the hospital.

It’s not that I don’t love her.

I love her, so I’m not going to go see her. And it’s driving me nuts. (more…)

My Strength is Not Enough

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

I can’t do it.

So after the Christmas and related fires ended, I took a few days to rest. And then this week I’ve started trying to reach out to all the people I asked, “Can this wait until after Christmas?”

Except there are too many people. There’s so many people to reach out to. There’s that family living in a car that I got food to, but ended up not even being able to see. There’s that member that I’ve met only once before. There’s that family that had a recent death. All people I served over Christmas, but much less than I wanted to.

But now Christmas is done. I’ve been refreshed by some time off.

And I’m making phone calls and texts and emails and such, trying to get back into contact with everyone.

And it’s too much. (more…)

Gifts for Me

Christmas Card

She is alone much of the time. As I visit her, she tells me, “I haven’t left my room in over a month.” I know this woman fairly well. She may be in a nursing home, but she’s hardly sedate. She’s active with the other residents, playing games, solving puzzles, and sharing Jesus.

Normally.

Just about every time I visit, she’ll say, “Pastor, my neighbor doesn’t believe in God. How can that be? How can I tell him about Jesus?”

Her heart yearns for her Savior and yearns to share him, too.

But now she’s sick. It’s a new medication that’s simply not cooperating well. Hopefully it’ll be solved soon. In the meantime, she hasn’t left her room.

She hasn’t been to church in years. Her family stuck her in a nursing home far away. It was cheaper. But it’s so far away she physically can’t handle the drive to church anymore. It’s so far away pretty much no one visits her. It’s about an hour away by interstate.

And she longs to be with the congregation again. She misses the family of believers. (more…)

Reboot

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God has timing.

I’m a Trekkie. I’ve enjoyed the more recent movies – Star Trek and Star Trek into Darkness, but I don’t consider them Star Trek. They’re decent sci-fi action films that I enjoy at that level, but they’re simple sci-fi action wearing a Star Trek skin. I heard a lot of good things about the most recent film in the franchise Star Trek Beyond. I wanted to see it in theaters, but didn’t feel a great draw to actually spend money on it. Today, literally the last day it’s in the theater here, my Bride kicked me out to go take in a matinee.

I’m very, very glad I did.

See, reboots need to have a certain balance. They need to respect the old, while still forging ahead to something new. Lean too far one way, it’s a remake that only the fanboys will see. Lean too far the other way, you upset the core audience and lose what made it a thing in the first place.

And Star Trek Beyond… finally got it right. Slight spoilers ahead for the movie, so if it matters to you, don’t bother reading. And for those of you wondering, yes, this has a lot – a lot – to do with ministry. My ministry, at least. (more…)

A Weekend with the Family

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Usually not a happy sight.

Of course I’ll take you.

Grandpa had open heart surgery. He’s a church member; I’d already been planing to take the one hour one-way trip to the hospital to see him. His daughter and grandchildren don’t have a car; they want to see grandpa, too. So up we went.

And on the way, not only did I get to spend time with my members… I got to know them better, and minister to them in their need. And then minister to grandpa in his need. And then minister to a sad and shaken family on the way back. Stepdad in the family was taught growing up that “Real men don’t cry.” I got to teach him otherwise. If it’s ok for Jesus to cry, it’s ok for you.

It is good to be the family of God. (more…)

Nothing Left to Give

lassie-di

What was that Lassie? My ability to care fell down a well? Huh. Well, screw it all, then.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time of year again, and I just don’t care. My euphemism is “I’m feeling down.” And it’s true. At first I thought it was just overwork and exhaustion. Five thirteen-hour days in a row will do that to you. But then I slept. And I was no longer tired.

Still, I did not care.

It’s not as bad as it was a few years back when I finally decided to go and get checked out for depression. I was able to get out of bed, though it still seems like getting out of bed was the worst thing I could possibly do in most situations. I was still capable of dealing with most people, though I had no desire to. I’ve faced darker tunnels and longer days.

Doesn’t mean these days are great.

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It’s not funny. It’s true.

Last Thursday I went to a regular Thursday appointment to see a certain family. I’m there nearly every week for a variety of reasons that don’t really matter for this post, other than to say they’re all involving ministry and sharing Jesus.

This particular family also knows about my struggles with depression. I’ve shared with them, because many in their family have the same struggle.

One particular woman in the family asked how I was doing on Thursday, and I shared honestly: Not great. “I’ve been having some down days lately. Not terrible, but it’s not been good.” I shrugged. I went about my business with the family.

Friday I got a text from that woman: “Hi Pastor, how are you doing today? Is there anything I can do for you?”

My heart broke. I read the text again. And again. I was not alone. This woman reached out to support me, just to see how I was doing.

She loved her pastor.

The body of Christ reached out to one who was hurting. To me.

Maybe your pastor is well-loved. Maybe he can experience that love. Maybe, though he is a shepherd who faces many hardships, is reminded of his congregation’s support. I don’t feel that support here. Please notice how I phrased that: I don’t feel that support. Perhaps it’s there and I’m blind to it. Perhaps my people love me and don’t have opportunity or knowledge in how to show it.

But in a week of darkness, this woman reached out.

God knows what I need, and he sent someone to give it.

(Please note: My Bride is awesome and has been as long as I have known her. She supports me, too. She has all this week. I do not discount that support at all! However, it’s a touch different receiving support form an unexpected quarter.)

When that woman came to church tonight, I thanked her personally. I wanted her to know how much that simple little text meant to me.

God knows what he’s doing. This week, I encountered this webcomic:

lonely1

lonely2

lonely3-1

lonely4

Very seriously, visit http://adam4d.com/ for some really, really great webcomics.

Again, exactly what I needed.

I am struggling with caring about the flock given to me. The last several posts show how I have been wavering so much on this. Part of that struggle is with the loveliness of the congregation. Frankly, they can be a hard group to love. That shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t.

It does.

Though I long to be like my Shepherd, I am not Jesus. I want to show the grace he has shown me. Oh, it is so hard. In many ways, I simply feel empty.

And another element reared its head this week: Depression. Woo!

And now I’m dried up. Like pottery thrown on the floor, I’m just a shard of the refuse.

Today I got to lead my congregation into grace. And I loved preaching to them. Bible study was such a joy. I played volleyball with some of my congregation. I came back energized. I led a Sunday evening worship service and drove several teens back to their homes. I smiled most of the way.

And then I sit down… empty.

When I think of the individuals of the congregation, this is where I want to be. I think of the man who longs to see his Savior and reminds me so often of Jesus’s love. I think of another man who faithfully cleans the church every week. I think of the woman who struggles to care for her family and still types up large-print bulletins for us. I think of the teen who’s excited to teach Sunday school. These are the people I have been called to shepherd. I know them by name, and I ache, I ache to shepherd them.

And then I think of them as a group… and my heart turns off. I just don’t care anymore.

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I tried to find a picture of “I just don’t care anymore,” but every image included swear words. I’ll let you imagine them here.

What is this? Some symptom of being an introvert? Some element of depression or exhaustion or burnout?

I know this coming week, I’m spending more time at home and not planning on working all those hours. We’ll see if I’m able to do so. I suspect less hours will help me approach people with a heart full of God’s love and not empty. I suspect some rest will also combat my depression.

I also know I’m thankful for that little text. I’m thankful for Jesus using that woman to show love.

Can I encourage you to do something?

Tell your pastor. Call him up. Send him an email or a text. Write him a note. In fact, I encourage you to do something written rather than oral, so he can look back at it.

Tell him you care for him. Tell him you are thankful he brings you the Word. Ask how you can support him – not even the church, but him, as he goes out to shepherd the flock that Christ has placed under him. He may not need that encouragement at that moment. He may not need any help you are equipped to provide.

But simply knowing that one of the sheep cares about the health of the shepherd means so, so much on a dark day.

Tell him.

And even if he never says thank you, let me say it for him:

Thank you.

 

Pastor looks to get something for service, shamed by congregation. More at eleven.

Well, I guess that reveals my rotten core, huh?

It started simply enough: with a compliment. Our alderman, whom I’ve had a few encounters with – never negative, mind you – sent me an email. “I know your congregation is trying to get out into the neighborhood. A few blocks from you, an elderly couple is under orders from the city to paint their house exterior. They can’t do it. Would your congregation be interested in helping?”

Well, I thought it was a fine idea – great publicity for the congregation, as well as just a great chance to serve together. Absolutely! I brought the idea forward after worship one week.

Within five minutes, we had about ten volunteers to paint, a man willing to purchase paint, a man willing to purchase all the equipment needed, and another willing to donate lunch. Well, I guess we were in! (more…)

A Dangerous Question

“Trash Sunday morning. It doesn’t exist anymore. There’s nothing there. Now, starting from scratch, redesign the entire Sunday morning experience with two goals: 1) Introducing Jesus to someone who has no clue who he is, and 2) Strengthening the faith of our members and visitors who already know him, no matter how well they already know him. Go.”

We’re walking the path to becoming “an outreach church.” For the last several years, while we’ve certainly held outreach events and God has certainly laughed as he’s blessed us with people who want to join the congregation, we’ve not exactly been focused outward. One member told me with a straight face, “If someone wants to come here, they have to change to be like us.” I want to point out here, that this same member is not afraid to tell me to change God’s Word if it means keeping a member. He’s more concerned with “the way things have always been” than doctrine.

I also want to make clear that there are certain non-negotiables. I constructed the question to be as broad as possible to start discussion… but I suspect I’ll be pulling back from more radical changed, depending how creative people get. Non-negotiable number one: the center of the service is still the proclamation of the Gospel. Period. We do not change doctrine. We do not change God’s Word. I don’t care if the Gospel or closed Communion or original sin is offensive and scares people away; these things are non-negotiable.

But today, in our “little” evangelism group, we asked the question… and got some responses I didn’t expect. (more…)