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Time to have the funeral

December 31, 2014 — 8 Comments

2015-aheadThis is a difficult post to write because it’s about something near and dear to my heart: the local church. And it impacts far more congregations than we’d probably want to admit.

Having served on staff for many years in Christian churches and ministry organizations, there’s a pattern of dysfunction that must be addressed. I look around and see so many churches struggling to be effective in today’s environment. While the reasons are often numerous, one in particular seems to wreak havoc, especially in terms of unity and momentum.

It goes beyond worship styles and preaching styles. It has little or nothing to do with denominational ties or affiliations. And it’s not something that prayer alone can fix.

A closer look, usually including honest conversations with members and staff ministers, often reveals that the key problem is a failure to appropriately move through the stages of grief. Whether related to a specific ministry — or a specific minister — drastic change, even over a period of years, can bring feelings of shock, denial, anger, sadness and despair. However, acceptance of the new reality is extremely difficult for many people, particularly those who place great value on tradition and history.

Inherent in the much-needed acceptance stage is the important process of recalibrating life and perspectives in light of the loss, whether real or perceived. This lack of emotional recalibration is potentially paralyzing and poisonous to the health and growth of a church.

Let me explain. Continue Reading…

lent-blog-graphicAs a child growing up in the Mississippi Delta, I remember the excitement of Easter Sunday morning. My parents were always generous with treats from the Easter bunny, but the focus of Easter was always rightly on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

One thing I never quite understood was the season of Lent that was talked about and observed by many of my classmates. None of the churches I attended ever emphasized Lent, and, regrettably, it’s not really something I ever personally studied in-depth.

Not to be disrespectful, but to acknowledge the truth of my limited knowledge and understanding of Lent — especially as a kid — I simply associated it with a few key observations of those who did participate:

1. They ‘pig out’ on ‘Fat Tuesday.’
2. They go to church and get ash on their faces on ‘Ash Wednesday.’
3. They ‘give up’ something that they care a lot about.
4. They all seem to eat fish on Fridays.

Having indulged in IHOP’s National Pancake Day, I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out the whole Fat Tuesday thing! Seriously, I now know a lot more about the history and significance of Lent than I did as a grade school student. While Lent is most commonly associated with Catholic and Anglican traditions and more liturgical Protestant congregations, it has gained popularity in recent years by evangelicals as well.

The Wikipedia explanation of Lent is actually pretty good:

The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the tradition and events of the Bible beginning on Friday of Sorrows, further climaxing on Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday, which ultimately culminates in the joyful celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

While some religious leaders minimize and trivialize Lent as a purely legalistic or outwardly attention-seeking practice (and perhaps for some it is), I believe that the observance of Lent can be a meaningful time to spiritually prepare for the most holy holiday of the year. That’s why for the first time I have chosen to observe Lent as well.

While I will not be discussing the details of my observance of Lent, I do want to state the reasons for my decision in hopes that others might consider doing the same. Here they are:

1. There’s something valuable about intentionally preparing for Holy Week. Far too often Easter is just another ultra-busy weekend filled with lots of activity and outreach designed to get people to come to church. This is all too true for those of us who serve in pastoral ministry. My observation of Lent will likely involve attending a service or two at another church as part of the experience.

2. There’s something helpful about sacrifice that reminds me of Christ’s sacrificial death. Whatever I may choose to ‘give up’ — or whatever form such a choice may take — it is a decision that will daily remind me to pursue a holy lifestyle.

3. There’s something biblical about a 40-day experience. The Bible is sprinkled with examples of ’40 days’ references ranging from Noah and the flood to Jesus’ time in the desert. During this time I will focus on my weaknesses and desperate need for Jesus as my Lord and Savior. This period will be a time of spiritual formation and personal reflection.

4. There’s something radical about breaking out of a rut. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, especially as a pastor. So many of the things we do are seemingly on auto-pilot. Sadly, we can find ourselves so focused on creating meaningful experiences for others — or preserving those things that keep everyone comfortable — that we become facilitators-only rather than active participants.

Now I realize that some of my Baptist friends will probably think I’m nuts. And that’s OK. After all, I’m not making an up-front commitment to observe Lent every year from now on. Still my primary motivation is simple. If I want God to do something new in my life, then I must be willing to do something new too. [Tweet That!]

During Lent, I’ll be using the Journey to the Cross devotional guide, written by Kendal Haug and Will Walker of Providence Church in Austin, Texas and linked here by permission. Perhaps you’d like to use it too.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION!
Is God impressing you to do something different in order to prepare for the Easter season?