Evangelism

Review: UnChristian

UnChristian: What a new generation really thinks about Christianity …and why it matters
by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons

Barna Research asked over 50,000 people who aren’t Christians what they thought of Christianity. This book is the result of the research. It highlights the most common responses, as well as what proper responses are. The most common responses were: Hypocritical, Conversion-Focused, Antihomosexual, Sheltered, Too Political, and Judgmental. After some introductory chapters, lengthy chapters focus on each word, giving ample time for those outside Christianity to explain what they mean and why they say it. Each chapter then concludes with reactions from Christian leaders. The book then wraps up with a summary chapter pointing the way ahead.

There are two bad ways this book could have gone. It could have wrung its hands saying, “Look how terrible it is for the church! We need to change the way we do everything or we’ll be forgotten!” It could also have brushed off the complaints: “Clearly these people have no idea what Christianity is, so we need to double down on what we do.” Instead, it walks a narrow middle ground: “If this is their perception, we need to deal with it. And is this an opportunity for us to do some soul-searching? Are their perceptions accurate?” And rather than turn to popular opinion, the book urges us to turn to Christ to see the way to go.

I appreciated the balance a great deal. The book take a look, for example, why Christians are regarded as “hypocritical,” giving several examples of why outsiders view Christians that way. It then warns that outsiders will never understand Christians fully, as they do not know Jesus. And then – gasp! – the book asks the reader to evaluate their actions in the light of Christ, and rather than do what a congregation might want, see what Jesus would do. (more…)

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Review: Fusion

Fusion
by Nelson Searcy with Jennifer Dykes Henson

How many first-time guests enter your church, never to return? How are we valuing these gifts from God, these opportunities to share Jesus? In this book, Searcy shows his method for turning a first-time visitor into a second-time-visitor into a regular visitor into a member. He gives the specifics of his congregation’s approach, explains the reasoning behind it, and how to get such a program started. He walks through how to engineer positive first impressions, generate a willingness to be contacted, and how to help ensure that visitors join the community of the congregation. The book includes a helpful appendix that summarizes the various resources found in the book.

The book offers exactly what it says it offers: a method of follow-up that’s pretty good. Searcy backs up his reasoning well with various surveys and shows so many good examples, I feel I could replicate his method fairly accurately. His approach is very seeker-friendly, for better or worse. It has nothing to do with what a church teaches or what a congregation’s creed is; all he’s interested in here is getting visitors to come back. (more…)

Review: Comeback Churches

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Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can Too by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson

Churches don’t always grow. Sometimes the decline; often they plateau, reaching a certain level and stagnating. This book interviewed 324 “comeback churches” that either stagnated or declined for at least five years, and then experienced significant growth for at least five years. What did they have in common? What didn’t seem to be a factor overall? Surprising insights and principles for growth make up the bulk of the book, along with tips on how to implement change.

One of the things I appreciated about the book was about how up-front the authors were with their goals. They did not want to set out a cookie-cutter approach, because that wouldn’t work. They pointed out repeatedly that they got a wide range of answers from their surveys, so that a church shouldn’t say, “This process worked for church X, so we should do it here!” Instead, they showed what the churches had in common in terms of attitude and approach, not necessarily in “Steps taken,” if that makes any sense.

I was also grateful for the spiritual aspect of the book; it underlined that unless a church rejoices that Jesus saved them from their sins, they would have no good reason to reach out to the surrounding community. The surprise of “Jesus forgives me?!” leads to a desire to reach out to others that Jesus died for. While this book is not… Gospel-based in the way I’d strongly prefer, it was clear that the authors wanted to give more than lip service to Jesus. “The greatest motivation for evangelism is our own relationship with God, compelling us to love those he loves” (100). (more…)

Theology Geek!

We were getting sandwiches to go. On the way out the door, some guy blurts out, “Hey, man, I love your shirt!”

We were on the way out of the grocery store. The checker checked out my shirt. “I love that shirt!”

The checker a lane over looked up and shouted across several people in-between, “That is an awesome shirt!”

What shirt was it? Why, this one:

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Sorry I can’t make it bigger… this design isn’t available anymore!

You may have no idea what that shirt is. It’s part of the cast of the Disney show Phineas and Ferb dressing up as Doctor Who characters. I love both shows, and my Bride bought me the shirt as a gift for… some random holiday. I don’t remember which one. But this is one of the few T-shirts that makes the rounds on the few days I get to wear such apparel.

I don’t remember it getting much attention from others when I wore it in my previous locality, but apparently here there’s enough of a crossover between sci-fi fans and Disney fans that it gets some compliments.

And it got me thinking.

I know that people have worn shirts to get attention for, well, forever. But apparel is not a thing I put a lot of thought into typically. Why? Look. It’s clothes. Woo.

But if this shirt is getting attention… I wonder if I can wear similar shirts to, say, coffee shops, and use them as conversation starters? What if I wore this one:

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Shirt still available at https://www.teepublic.com/ — I didn’t get the last one!

And I got a similar compliment? Could I respond with a, “Yeah, I love that movie. What’s your favorite quote?” Listen intently. “What do you think of this one? Is it right?” And now we can start talking about the brokenness of the world… and the solution to it.

Yep. Princess Bride can provide an opportunity to talk about Jesus.

What about this one?

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“It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.”

Yeah, I loved Firefly, too. Who was your favorite character?” And man. So many jump-off points there, but especially with Book. “What do you think? There any place for religion in the future?” (And if you don’t get it, that’s ok. Just dial up Firefly on your Netflix. You can thank me later.)

Look, there’s all sorts of ways to jump into a spiritual discussion leading to Jesus. And as a pastor, I usually can just go into it – people expect it. But to combine my nerdery with Christ? How awesome is that?

I know. I’m late to the game. But how cool is it that I might have an excuse to wear a T-shirt while pursuing ministry? That’s not normal! Usually I wear “professional clothing.” And while I’m not usually in a shirt and tie… it’s rare that I wear a T-shirt, unless it happens to have the church’s name on it.

But now… I get to try something different!

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I don’t care who you are; that’s cool right there.

Well, that escalated quickly.

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Today… I finally got to preach for my congregation. Today we finally got to have a “normal” week after… what seems like months of “lasts” and “firsts.” And, sure, today was the first time I got to preach here, but… well, it feels like home.

The congregation seemed to accept my leadership. We had (seriously) record-breaking attendance for Bible study this morning, and on Mother’s Day, no less! One of the congregation pulled me aside and with tears told me, “I praise Jesus that he sent you to us.” We had my first council meeting here this morning, and it looks like I’ll be able to work well with these guys.

But as I left the council meeting and tried to get into the sanctuary to set up for worship, a woman grabbed me. She introduced herself and asked, “Pastor, may I take Communion this morning? I was confirmed in one of your churches when I was fifteen.”

Which set off a yellow flag for me. Usually when people phrase it that way, it means they’ve not belonged to a church for quite a while. I was right; she belonged to a different church body currently. However, it’s a church body close to ours in most doctrines. Apparently she moved into the area a couple months ago and has been attending here regularly – regularly enough several of our members knew her name.

So I told her that I wouldn’t commune her today, but, “Let’s get together this week and talk. If everything looks good, maybe we can do a confession of faith and you’ll be able to join here, so I can commune you next time.”

She about burst with happiness. I’m meeting her tomorrow at noon.

And God laughs. I was called for evangelism here, and I’m hitting the ground running. Our Bible studies for the next couple months will be on how to share Jesus well, personally and congregationally. I have plans on how to reach out into the community – after I’ve figured out the community better! But here he says, “Well, here’s one of my daughters that needs a home. Here.”

Of course, tomorrow I could learn that I can’t welcome her into membership that easily. We’ll find out as I ask about what she believes. But for now it’s a fantastic opportunity, and one that – well, I’m excited for!

I’ve found a new place to serve. I’ve been called to be a pastor here. And it is so, so good to finally be the pastor here and not waiting in between.

This… this is a blessing.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

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And now it’s stuck in your head. You’re welcome.

Today we hosted our annual Neighborhood Cookout. It’s a great day every year. The church provides free burgers and hot dogs. We provide live music (this time a guy doing covers of classic rock). There’s a bounce house. Games. A few local agencies have booths (for instance, our teen center). The neighborhood generally shows up. In fact, in the last couple of years, people in the neighborhood look forward to it and it almost becomes a neighborhood pot luck, with people bringing a dish to share.

But, before the neighborhood can show up… they need to hear about it. So we go out and hand out invitations to neighborhood homes. We knock on doors, and give a simple invite: “Hi! I’m Jon from St. Smithins (not our real name), and we’re having a free cookout next week! Just wanted to give you an invitation. Thanks!”

A couple weeks ago we headed out, with the goal of handing out invitations to 500 homes. And my eldest son accompanied us.

Wow. He was eager, walking swiftly to homes, knocking on doors solo, and inviting person after person. He would spot someone walking on the sidewalk and launch himself forward to invite them. He’d come back, proud. “Did you see, dad? I invited them.” And no one said no to this nine-year-old boy. I was so proud of him.

And today. Today, as members and neighborhood folks milled around, as we yakked over burgers and while listening to the live music, as we watched our kids jump in the bounce house and try their hands at the frozen t-shirt contests…

My boy was there again. Inviting. He told people they should come to church. Fearless. Eager. Ready.

Oh, my boy. I wish I had your courage. I am so proud of you. (more…)

The Long Sunday

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It begins in a peaceful sanctuary. Gotta be the start of a good day, right? 

6:30am

I’m in the sanctuary, practicing a devotion for a council meeting and then the sermon for the day. Both go well, but long. It’ll have to do. I finish with enough time to practice playing the hymn for our evening service and even print out the music for it.

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It starts with Jesus. It’s all simple after this, right? 

7:30am

Council meeting. It begins with a devotion.

Yesterday I went to an evangelism seminar, and the keynote speaker said something that was really cool. I want to share it with you.

Men, especially, need a purpose. We need a project of some kind. Rebuilding a car. Building a deck. Writing a novel. We need a purpose, or we just fall to pieces. And Jesus gave us that purpose.

Easter night. The tomb has been empty all day, but the disciples are still terrified. They’re hiding in their room. And then Jesus shows up, even though the doors are locked. And he showed them his hands. Look! They look like they’ve been staked to a cross! And then he gives them – and us – a mission: ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’” And I look at the men in the room. One of the councilmen is missing. Not surprising, unfortunately. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. Jesus’s mission is now our mission. What did the Father send Jesus to do?”

And one of the councilmen says it, word for word, exactly what I was looking for: “He came to save the world.”

Exactly.” I smile. “Exactly! The Father sent Jesus to save the world. And now that’s our mission. Jesus sends us to save the world. It’s not a little thing. It’s not a hobby. This is major.”

And we go on to explore Jesus accomplished his mission: He left his comfortable home in heaven to come to those who needed saving, he served, he shared his Father’s Word, he was all about what his Father said and not about what he wanted, he suffered, he died. And we will follow that same method.

Oh, I am excited. This is such awesome stuff, and I’m thrilled to share it. Not because I’m awesome, but because Jesus is awesome.

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My face at council. 

8:00am

Council meeting continues.

We’ve covered some good basic things. We need to set up guidelines for building usage so I can just say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to those who want to use the space. We’re going to support a VBS put on by some sister congregations, in large part because we simply can’t do our own.

A councilman voices an idea about how to use one of our rooms. Not a bad idea in itself, but there are practical matters to consider. It would require a fairly large outlay of money, and given the nature of the idea, a new monthly budget item that would be fairly major. Councilman’s willing to foot the bill for it.

I ask, “How does this connect people to Jesus?”

We’ll figure it out later,” he says.

No. Does not work. Our mission is to share Jesus. Our mission is to save the world. You don’t have an idea to commit the church to something and say, “We’ll figure out the Jesus part out later.”

He is not pleased.

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Sorry, dude. Not gonna change some things. Actually, no. Not sorry. 

8:30am

The last council member shows up an hour late.

We’re talking about evangelism. He asks about a certain visitor who had expressed interest in joining. He asks for her by name – by a name that I don’t recognize. I thought she had a different name. I tell about how she had been very interested in coming to a Bible study, and we’d just started a new membership class. She didn’t show up, but she had been excited. She wasn’t in worship last week.

We shouldn’t make people take a class. It scares people away,” he scowls. “If you told me that, I’d go to another church that didn’t make me take a class.”

I take a breathe. “We love God’s Word enough to teach it to others.”

He sulks.

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Despite my frustration with some, others eagerly await the Gospel. 

9:00am

Out of council.

Seriously. These are the men that lead our congregation? A man who wants us to get people in instead of teaching the Bible? A man who doesn’t care if we connect people with Jesus, as long as we get them in the building? Really?

Is this my people? Am I wasting my time here? Is this a waste of service?

Stow it. I need to focus.

Time to greet people at worship. Finally. Of course, fifteen minutes before worship, and not a lot of people are here yet. Most people come five minutes before worship.

The woman that the councilman asked about? That he thinks shouldn’t take a class? She’s here. I grab her. We talk. I double-check her name. Lo and behold, I had her name right.

(In other words – I cared enough about her to learn her name. The councilman didn’t care enough to get her name right. Looks like [surprise! ] he was only interested in getting another body in church.)

She asks me, “Can I be baptized? I was never baptized.”

Oh.

Oh, yes.

We arrange to get together this week so we can talk about baptism, what it is, and prepare. Because yes. I will baptize you.

Love is not getting butts in the seats. Love is sharing Jesus.

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It’s not me that’s awesome. It’s Jesus. 

9:18am

Worship starts a few minutes late because I don’t get away from the woman who wants to be baptized. Because, really, you don’t want to walk away from a moment like that.

And worship.

Oh, to stand in the grace of God. To pronounce the simple truth that we are broken. That we are sinners. That we are evil. That we are dead.

And Jesus loves us.

That he died for us. That he took on our evil. He took on our sin. He took on our brokenness.

I told the congregation I was excited today. I think it came through. The council meeting is out of my head. I don’t care about it now. The concern will come back later, after most of the day is done. But for now, ti simply stand in the presence of God and share it… oh!

To give the body and blood in with and under the bread and wine, to give the people forgiveness they can taste and see… oh, there is nothing like it. To lead others to exclaim praise that yes, I am forgiven, that yes, I am God’s child!

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I love our members, but they’re really not as photogenic as stock photography people. 

10:35am

Worship went a little long. That pastor, he just doesn’t shut up about Jesus, does he?

And I come downstairs to our fellowship area and discover… God’s people greeting visitors and loving each other. Oh, it is good. This is not the group that I saw even two months ago who ignored visitors.

I spend time talking to a few people. Asking if I can call this week, if I can visit. I long to be with my people. I stop by visitors. Arrange to meet. Talk.

Oh. It is so good.

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There was no math in Bible study, thankfully. 

11:05am

We start Bible study almost a half hour late.

Silly pastor doesn’t shut up when he’s conversing with God’s people. It’s almost like he enjoys this.

And for Bible study, my Bride and I share what we learned at the evangelism seminar. And we’re excited. I’m not sure how much got through to others, but we’re excited.

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You’ll never guess where I devoured cowmeat. Well, something kinda close to it, anyway. Kinda.

11:45am

Driving a regular visitor home after Bible study. Grabbing fast food with my family for lunch. Because I have an appointment to get to.

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I’m the worst pastor ever. I don’t like coffee. I just order lots of chai lattes.

1:00pm

I’m in a coffee shop with four other adults gathered around a table. They belong to a sister congregation, but have been visiting weekly for just over a month. They want to transfer membership. I want to get to know them better. The coffee shop is a good place to meet.

We talk for two and a half hours.

These four brothers and sisters share their lives with me. I get to know where they work. How they met each other. Their life stories. And I delight. One of them is in tears, sharing herself in ways she never has outside of her family.

And I love these brothers and sisters. I’m not saying that in a jock way, but in the way that happens when you know someone, when you learn some of their darkness, and share God’s grace with them. And they bond as I share God’s grace. We talk about what membership in this family means.

The time flies by. And in the end… three of them want to transfer membership.

Oh. One of them isn’t a member anywhere. She was baptized a couple years ago, but never went through instruction.

She’s going to come tomorrow to the membership class. She’s excited. She wants to know if there’s a women’s Bible study she can come to. We don’t have one now, but there’s a few women interested. We start brainstorming right there different ways to set something up and get it going.

God is so, so good.

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No one named Glinda has ever done this to me.

3:45pm

Home!

Just in time to start prepping for the evening service!

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“I have a dad?!”

5:00pm

Supper with the family. I get to spend some time with family.

I have kids! Who knew?

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On the road again… just can’t wait to get on the road again…

5:30pm

I leave to pick up people for our evening service.

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6:10pm

Five minutes before worship starts, I discover that for some reason the speakers have stopped working.

Wonderful.

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There is no joke here. Simple truth.

6:15pm

Evening worship. It’s… it’s so empty. For some reason, a lot of the regulars aren’t there tonight.

God’s Word is still preached.

God’s people are shown their sin. God’s people are shown their Savior. God’s people rejoice in forgiveness. And even with so few… it’s good.

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Is it sleep time yet?

8:00pm

I’m home from dropping everyone off. Time to put things away. Time to write down what needs to be recorded.

I’m so tired.

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8:30pm

Nearly fourteen hours straight of ministry time. Most of it people time. I am drained.

It is so good.

Parts of today were terrible. I hate that the worst parts of my day had to do with my council simply not getting that it’s about sharing Jesus. I hate that immaturity. I hate that my day began with that. And it hurts that they don’t value the one who gave his life for them.

God knew that would happen this morning. He knew that one councilmember wouldn’t care about connecting people to Jesus, and that another would rather get butts in the seats, even to the detriment of the people there. And he knew how much I would gnash my teeth.

And so he sent the others.

He sent the lamb who wants to be baptized.

He sent the family that wants to serve.

He sent the members who encouraged me.

This day has been long and so good, and it had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with Jesus. He gets all the credit.

He comforts a sinner like me. Not just with forgiveness, but with love.

Lord, thank you for this long, long day. Forgive me my anger, and direct me with a fierce love of both you and those who don’t acknowledge you. Make it my passion more and more to reach out. And Lord… thank you. Thank you for the encouragement. Thank you for the blessing of sharing your good, good Word.

And Lord… if it’s your will… please make tomorrow shorter, but no less good!

“…unless someone explains it to me?”

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And sometimes God says, “Here! I want you to talk to someone!”

I have a member in the hospital. I went to go visit her. On my way out after a devotion and some time with family, I hop in the elevator. A woman’s in there. She looks at me and asks, “Are you a pastor?”

Yes…” I answer, unsure of what is about to transpire.

Oh! My father just had a stroke. We don’t have a pastor to visit. Would you visit him?”

OK!”

And back up I went. Oops. His room is empty. But as I turn around, there’s a man standing in the hallway by a nurse. Well, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s not him?

I ask if his name is Mr. X [name redacted for privacy concerns]. It is! I explain his daughter sent me, and he gestures to his room. “Want to talk?”

And we talk for about half an hour. We get to know each other. Apparently it’s not a stroke, but he will be in the hospital for a little bit for observation. He mentions how his upstairs neighbor has recently lost someone he loves, and is mad at God. “You shouldn’t be mad at God,” this man says.

And I’m able to share the story of Lazarus. How Martha was so angry at Jesus for not being there to heal her brother, but Jesus did not scold. He did gently correct. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus reminds Martha that she will see her brother again, and not “just” on the Last Day.

The man sits and thinks a little bit. “I need God in my life again, too.”

I mention, “You seem to know your Bible fairly well, but you didn’t have a pastor to visit…?”

He shrugs. “I’m Catholic, but I haven’t been to church in over ten years. I really should go back. What was your name again?”

I offer my card.

He smiles. “I should get back to church. But you found me first. I’ll give you a try.”

We shake hands and I head out. Over the course of the conversation, he expressed at least an intellectual understanding of the Gospel and a good working knowledge of the Bible. And now God poked him through me to say, “Come back.”

And God poked me to say, “Go. Share. Tell others.”

Apparently I’m entering a season of evangelism. God has sent me to be a fisher of men… but apparently sometimes the fish just jump into the boat.

I’m ok with that.

Things Not to Do on an Evangelism Visit

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So, I accidentally broke into a woman’s house today.

Yeah.

Oops.

Next week we’re starting a new Bible study, and at the end of it, if you agree with what’s been taught, you’re welcomed into membership. I’m going around to just about anyone who has any connection with the church and inviting them. Today I’ve visited a lot of homes in a lot of areas to meet with a lot of people.

I came to one of those homes that have lower and upper apartments. Often both apartments share the same outer door that leads into a hallway. I knocked on the exterior door, got no answer, and peered through the shaded glass. Looked like one of those hallways. I opened the door, thinking I had to go in and knock on an inner door. 

I completely startled the woman who had been napping on the couch in her living room after a day at work.

Oops.

I apologized up and down and up and down. I think we were both embarrassed.

Anyway, we laughed, I invited her, she says she’s coming. (Whether or not she comes remains to be seen, of course.)

So, protip: Don’t break into people’s houses when you’re trying to invite them to a Bible study. But if you do, make sure to apologize a lot.

United

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I have discovered what unites Christians. I have uncovered the long-buried secret that will band Christians together, that will make them move as a single family, that will bond them. Oh, it is no gimmick, and it is no leadership tactic. It’s not a program and it’s not a new sermon style.

It is the cross.

I have nearly two separate churches in the same building. The morning rarely seems to acknowledge the evening exists, and the evening is quite content to remain in the evening and not interact, for the most part. I feared mostly that the morning discounted the evening. One person had even said they didn’t count, mostly for monetary reasons.

But this week… this week has united us.

It began Thursday. We celebrated Maundy Thursday, the day that Jesus gave a new command – that we love one another. We also celebrate the founding of the Sacrament of Holy Communion. And on that day, a regular visitor who came to Refresh was confirmed. He had studied what we teach and proclaimed it to be his faith. He joined us as a member, and that night, he joined us in Communion for the first time.

The evening ended with the “Stripping of the Altar,” a tradition I introduced to the congregation. Every movable piece of furniture is taken from the altar area, until the altar is left alone and bare, just as Jesus was abandoned and alone on that first Thursday night of the first Holy Week. Several individuals assisted me: Two councilmen, a mother-son duo (the son is in first grade), and two young men from the evening service. Two different worlds, united to serve at the foot of the cross. When I thanked each one individually after the service, the response I got was, “Anytime, pastor. Just ask.”

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Thursday night the congregation was divided nearly equally between evening and morning. And they blended together in marvelous ways – united by worshiping at the feet of the Savior who served them.

Friday night the wonder continued. Good Friday here does not allow much fellowship; we enter and leave in silence in this one very special service as we commemorate our Savior’s death. We did not have as many from the usual Sunday evening crowd at this service, but they were still well represented. Once again, the people gathered around the Word. They gathered to worship the Savior who bled for them.

And tonight. Oh, tonight!

We moved the Sunday evening service to tonight. I knew there was no way after Holy Week I’d have any steam left to lead a Sunday evening service. Instead, we held an “Easter Vigil.” We waited by the tomb after Jesus has died, considering his promises to us. It was a service in the style of a Sunday evening service – so much more laid back, with discussion throughout – but held in the sanctuary and with more ceremony than they were used to. In other words, it was nearly a hybrid service. This is the first time we’ve ever performed such a service.

We had nearly all the normal attenders for Sunday evening, and about the same amount of Sunday morning people came. Through all the “unusual” elements, they worshiped.

And what united them?

Oh, it was not me. There was no charismatic leadership here. And it was not some mysterious “new service” that brought Christians out to sate their curiosity. It was no gimmick.

They came to worship the Savior who died for them.

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And afterward? Afterward, men and women leaped into action, preparing the sanctuary for Easter morning. Take the black cloth down from the cross; put up the white! Bring on the flowers! Change the paraments!

And once more, though the Sunday evening crowd knew not what to do… all worked together. Learning names. Laughing together and considering whether this flower looked better here or over there.

United not by simple service, but by serving their Savior, who lives again for them.

We are not even to Easter yet, but God has poured such blessings onto this congregation. He has united us around Word and Sacrament. He has brought us together, not simply into a family, but into His family.

And I stand back. I didn’t do this. He did.

And what God has begun, he will bring to completion. I may not see that completion until heaven. I may have no clue what that completion looks like. But this is the Savior who bled, died, and lives for me. How could I not trust him? His mercies are new every morning.

Friday night ended with reproaches. Our service ended with God laying out our need for repentance. Part of that service includes the congregation begging God for mercy.

And last night it struck me.

I am Scar.

At the end of The Lion King, Scar has destroyed the Pride Lands. The rightful king, Simba, returns, and the two battle. Scar had murdered the previous king and thought Simba dead . When Simba learns of Scar’s betrayal, Simba attacks – and Scar ends up on his back, defenseless, as Simba holds claws to Scar’s throat.

And Scar begs, “Mercy, Simba! Mercy!”

Simba has no reason to give it. Scar has earned death. He is the villain of the piece.

And Simba lets him go. As Scar slinks away, he throws burning coals into Simba’s face and attacks again. In the end, in defense, Simba kills Scar.

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How often have I been Scar? How often have I stood at the foot of the cross, convinced of my sins, the claws of the Law at my neck, and I know God would be right to destroy me?

And I beg “Mercy.”

And God gives it. I slink away – only to return to my treacherous ways. How often have I attempted to steal God’s property? How often have I made the ministry here about me? How often have I stolen his glory and thought it was my responsibility to get people in here, to grow the church, to get them to listen? How often have I complained about the gift God has given me of serving him here? And how often have I repented of my sinful pride, of stealing God’s place?

Mercy!”

And here God reminds me: Here is the price of my sin. And he gladly paid it.

And here God reminds me: He is in charge of this congregation. Do you see, my child, as I call my own to worship?

And here God reminds me: This is all his, and I merely steward.

Mercy!”

And here I, too, am united with the congregation I serve. Here, too, I come to fall at the foot of the cross. I, too, cry out “Mercy!”

And I, too, receive the mercy I should not have. I, too, am washed of my offenses. I, too, stand and marvel at the cross.

Because that is what unites me with my people. It is not my service to them… but His service to us.

It is the cross.

And tomorrow… oh, tomorrow, the empty tomb!

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