When They Won’t Let the Pastor Play Church-League Softball

church softball

I enjoy sports. Really, I do.

I played little league baseball as a kid, a little football in high school, and ran cross-country one year in college. Additionally, I enjoy playing basketball, soccer, and a wide variety of other sports.

But I had never before played church league softball until I moved here. Now I’m in my second season and I enjoy it very much.

I wasn’t too sure they’d let me stick around after my first season, though! It was pretty rough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a bad at 1st base. But my hitting – goodness. I would get up to bat and hack away, trying to muscle out a hit. I don’t even want to think about what I looked like to everyone watching. 🙂

But this season something changed.

I received some good coaching regarding hitting form and style and made some changes.

I also came to a major realization that changed my whole approach to the game – I realized that I am not a power hitter. I will never be a Miguel Cabrera or a Mike Trout. So why was I trying to crush the ball?

So instead of trying to crush the ball at 100% power, I started trying to hit around 80% power and focus instead on hitting well. This season has been incredible for me. My hitting is dramatically better and my on-base percentage is higher than ever. I stopped trying to be something I wasn’t and embraced who I was as a ball-player. Now I can be more consistent and a better help to my teammates.

This is a lot like the Christian world.

I recently re-read a post from a famous Christian blogger lamenting the fact that the blogger’s church didn’t utilize her the way she wanted to be utilized. While I don’t know the specifics of her circumstances, I do know that it is common for people (myself included) to want to fill certain roles and to avoid others. But what we want isn’t necessarily the best place for us to be.

Sometimes we need to step back and say, “I’ve been trying to be this but God has really called me to be that.”

The Apostle Paul writes:

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:15-20)

There is a place for everyone in the church. God has given us all talent, skills, and abilities to do many things. Don’t think that you have nothing to offer. At the same time, don’t think that what you have to offer is what God actually wants you to be doing. Rather than forcing yourself into a role that’s not right for you, ask God and yourself where you actually fit best.

Then you can stop trying to be something you aren’t, embrace who I God has created you to be, and then can be more consistent and a better help to your church teammates.

‘Cause Nobody Likes Having Less Money

hobo

The issue of giving money to the church is often a touchy subject for many. Even within Christianity there can be great division regarding the tithe. I’m reminded of an old joke:

Three ministers are out playing golf and they’re trying to decide how much to give to charity. So the first says, “We’ll draw a circle on the ground, throw the money way up in the air, and whatever lands inside the circle we give to charity.” The second says, “No. We’ll draw a circle on the ground, throw the money up in the air, and whatever lands outside of the circle – that’s what we’ll give to charity.” The third and most senior pastor says, “No, no. We’ll throw the money up in the air and whatever God wants he keeps!”

Tithe is an old word for tenth, and the overwhelming model in the Bible is that people of faith give back to God (via the local place of worship) one-tenth of all our income. For example:

This stone that I have set up as a marker will be God’s house, and I will give to You a tenth of all that You give me. (Genesis 28:22)

Every tenth of the land’s produce, grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. (Leviticus 27:30)

You are to bring there your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tenths and personal contributions, your vow offerings and freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. (Deuteronomy 12:6)

Sometimes it’s hard to think about giving away 1/10 of our income – a dime of every dollar. So I asked on Twitter: Do you tithe to your local church? Why or why not?

And responses came pouring in:

There is no promise in the Bible that if you tithe then God will repay you with worldy riches. God doesn’t have a savings plan – you give 10% and you’ll see dividends 100x what you paid. It doesn’t work like that.

Giving says several things:
1) God, I give you this as an act of worship.
2) God, I recognize that all I have is from you.
3) God, I trust that you can take care of me even if I give my income away.

I believe that God will be faithful to us even if we give away 10% (or more) for his kingdom.

What’s your gut reaction? Are you a tither? How does the idea of giving a dime of every dollar sit with you?

Related Posts:
Fat, Greedy, Money-Grubbing Churches
How to Get Money From God

I Can’t Come to Church

© Michael Jastremski for openphoto.net

The other day I was involved in a hashtag game with some friends called #ICantComeToChurch.

It was highlighting some of the excuses we have heard (or used) to avoid going to church. Here are just a few of my faves:
– I can’t come to church because of all the hypocrites.
– I can’t come to church because the youth pastor is filling in while the senior pastor is on vacation.
– I can’t come to church because so-and-so always shoots me dirty looks.
– I can’t come to church because last time I skipped no one notices, so now I’m too offended to come back.
– I can’t come to church because __________________________ (insert lame excuse here).

There were a lot more, some were plain silly and fictitious – some real – but it highlights the fact that we’ve all heard (and used) examples of why we can’t be in church.

I’ve frequently heard people argue that you don’t have to be in church to be a Christian- that being in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car. And that’s true. But church isn’t about you and what you get out of it.

In his book, “The Good and Beautiful Community” James Bryan Smith points out that how you feel about church and the feeling you get from church isn’t the point. It’s not about your inspiration, but “rather the ‘transformation of the person within, by, and for the community.”

Being part of the community of faith transforms us. It teaches us. It holds us accountable. It allows us to participate in God’s story, other Christians’ stories, and to share our story with others. When all is said and done, while salvation is by faith in Jesus and not dependent on your church attendance record, we are missing out on the chance to grow and mature into the kind of person we could be if we would participate in the life of God’s Community.

So when Sunday rolls around next week try something different. Don’t look for excuses why you CAN’T go. Look for reasons why you SHOULD go. Engage. Plug in. Start participating in the story. Let others influence you. Influence others.

We all get better because of it.

And together we start to look like the Community God designed us to be.

SOUND OFF! What excuses have you used…er…I mean heard others use to get out of church?

Our Heathen President

seal

I am calling upon all Christians everywhere (well, at least in God’s special promised land of America) to fire up the Christian Outrage Machine.

Let’s be honest, we were a little concerned what we’d be outraged about once A&E brought Phil back to filming Duck Dynasty. But never fear, new outrage is here!

It goes back to the religious practices (or lack thereof) of the Commander in Chief, President Obama. You see, people who really care about such things have discovered that he’s only been to church 18 times since taking office!

Only 18 times!

That averages almost 4 times a year.

Can you believe that guy? How can he claim to be a Christian and “forsake the fellowship of believers”? You would think that a true Christian president would be in church every Sunday. You would think that a true Christian president wouldn’t act like the majority of Christians in America, who all attend church services fewer than 12 times a year (less than once a month).

No, a Christian president should be better than us. He should be in church more than we are. He should pray more frequently than we do. He should read his Bible daily and have a good chunk of it memorized.

It’s almost as though he has forgotten the righteousness received from the Holy Sanctuary and would rather live a Romans 3:21-26 kind of life ~

But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of theglory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.

Oh, well. I guess he’ll learn on Judgment Day when God checks his church attendance record. As a Christian Nation we need to rise up against this president’s mentality. We need to show him and teach him a lesson. So, in order to make our statement loud and clear, let’s be in church every Sunday in 2014.

That’ll teach our heathen president a lesson. So I’ll see you Sunday.

Right…?

15 Reasons I Left the Church: A Response to Rachel Held Evans

The local church I attend in Mattoon, IL

Recently I read a post from Rachel Held Evans called “15 Reason I Left the Church.” I don’t know Ms. Evans, but her post seems to be intended to reflect a common experience (and thus motivations?) of all 18-29 year olds who have left the church. To be fair, in much contemporary usage “leaving the church” does not mean abandoning faith but rather  walking away from “organized religion” – traditional Christianity as known and practiced by Evangelicals world-wide.

I love the church. I don’t love the church just because I’m a pastor. I love the church for what it is and what it does. I love the church because of WHOSE it is – not mine (though we often refer to a building as “that’s my church”) but God’s.

In the Bible the word “church” is ekklesia which quite literally means “called out”. The church is the group that God has called out of the world to be different; to be HIS. That being said, church is never about us. It’s always about HIM. Too often we get caught up in personal desires and wants when it comes to the local church. I believe this to be one of the primary errors of the generation Ms. Evans claims to represent – their focus is directed in the wrong direction. There is too much focus on the self instead of on the One who established and called out this group.

But I do want to look at the reasons she gives for walking away:

1.      I’m better at planning Bible studies than baby showers…but they only wanted me to plan baby showers. Bible

I’m not exactly sure what Ms. Evans means by this reason. Perhaps she’s trying to make a point about gender roles in the church? Without her explaining we’re left to guess, but my guess seems reasonable. I’m not sure why her church didn’t want her to plan Bible studies. I would encourage all Christians with the words of Paul:

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? (1 Corinthians 12:14-17)

Paul’s point is this – there are many parts and roles within the body of believers, the church. One part is not better or worse than the others. Each must fulfill its role to have a healthy and fully functioning body. We can’t always have our ideal role – sometimes we fill roles that don’t fulfill our personal desires. That’s when we have to remember that it’s not about us – it’s about the body. Sometimes we are called to put ourselves on the back burner for the benefit of the group.

2.      When we talked about sin, we mostly talked about sex.
Sin

Some churches do this, I’m sure, but not all. The Bible talks about all sorts of sin. Here’s the thing, when the Bible does talk about sin lists, i.e. here are things to avoid (as in Ephesians 5:3-5), sexual sins are always on the list. Our sexuality is a big part of who we are, and it keeps coming up in the Bible. So, while churches should talk about all the different ways sin destroys our connection with God, young people shouldn’t be surprised when sexual sin becomes part of the conversation.

My question is this: is the problem that churches are mostly talking about sexual sin or is the problem that sexuality is not an area where young people want to be told that God has an ideal right and wrong?

3.      My questions were seen as liabilities.

I can imagine that there are churches that try to quash questions. I know there are some road-sign-63983_1920churches and pastors who embrace questions. It means people are thinking! Since I know there are churches and pastors where questions are encouraged I have a hard time accepting this sweeping generalization as a legitimate complaint against The Church. One church’s behavior doesn’t mean The Church worldwide has the same attitude.

4.      Sometimes it felt like a cult, or a country club, and I wasn’t sure which was worse.

There’s really nothing to say about this complaint. It’s about a feeling, and you can’t argue with feelings. I would ask why she felt that way, but feelings are subjective. It’s dangerous to judge people or organizations on subjective grounds rather than objective. Feelings change. “I don’t like the music there. I don’t like the pastor here. I don’t like the color of the carpet.” The subjective complaints could go on and on and on. Rather than merely leveling complaints, what is it Ms. Evans is looking for? What feeling would be acceptable?

5.      I believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that humans share a common ancestor with apes, which I was told was incompatible with my faith.

There are churches where this is not an issue. I agree with the idea of an “old earth”. As for the humans and apes bit, I tend to believe that the commonality reflects a common creator rather than a common ancestor, but I can still worship with people who disagree. The Bible is not a science book – it is a book of faith. Our relationship with God is not based on science but on faith. Christians around the globe can agree on the basics of faith and choose to lovingly disagree on non-essential issues. Again, Ms. Evans is making broad generalizations based on limited (or singular) church experiences.

6.      Sometimes I doubt, and church can be the worst place to doubt.

Yes, some churches frown on doubt. But an honest reading of the Bible shows that even some of the “greats” go through times of doubt. Will you turn your back on what God has instituted based on some who cannot allow an expression of doubt? You discredit those churches that would express it with you.

7.      I didn’t want to be anyone’s “project.”

Without further explanation from Ms. Evans I really don’t know what she’s talking about other than to say that she seems to have a specific example in mind. There are people in the church who will try to make others into projects. Sometimes those people are well-intentioned. Sometimes they are not. But the church is not a perfect place – it is a group of sinners who are part of a new community – a kingdom community. That means that our humanity is sometimes going to get in the way. It means that church and church relationships can get messy. It’s not a reason to walk away.

8.      It was often assumed that everyone in the congregation voted for Republicans.

This excuse amuses me. I think the voting record of a church changes based on geographic location. While some churches are largely Republican, I know of congregations that are largely Democrat. Then there are some churches that hold to neither side but try to preach Jesus and the Gospel regardless of politics. As a pastor I firmly believe that neither party has it all right. Sometimes the Bible will side with one and other times it will side with the other.

9.      I felt like I was the only one troubled by stories of violence and misogyny and genocide found in the Bible, and I was tired of people telling me not to worry about it because “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”

Again with the “feeling.” It’s impossible to argue against subjective criticisms. You felt that way but were you really the only one? There’s no one else?

10.  My own selfishness and pride.

I think a lot of these 15 reasons could actually be subcategories of #10…

11.  I knew I would never see a woman behind the pulpit, at least not in the congregation in which I grew up.

There are Christian traditions that frown on women in ministry. There are other traditions that do not. Why walk away from the Church because you are unhappy with a single tradition? I am the son of an educated (Ph.D) and ordained woman. I grew up in a home and church where mom was a contributor to the theological discussion and service. I am married to a woman who has a graduate degree in Biblical Studies and has preached the gospel on multiple continents. Your sweeping complaints do not represent the whole of American Christianity.

12.  I wanted to help people in my community without feeling pressure to convert them to Christianity.

I agree that the church should be involved in helping the community! And we should offer help with no strings attached. At some point, however, we have to come to a realization that physical help has limits if we never tell people about the gospel. It’s saying, “I care about your well-being but I don’t care about your eternity.” While we may not be balanced, the Church (even 18-29 year olds) needs to know that telling people about eternity is important.

13.  I had learned more from Oprah about addressing poverty and injustice than I had learned from 25 years of Sunday school.

True, many churches do not really approach the subject of poverty and injustice. But you’re really talking about a political endeavor rather than a spiritual one. I agree that Christians ought to be concerned with poverty and injustice, but many people seem to want these elements to be the sole mission of the Church. They are not. The mission of the Church is Jesus and disciple-making – helping people grow in their own faith and worship of Him. The Bible says that when the early church got together:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. (Acts 2:43-46)

While helping to assist other believers was part of what they did it was not their primary raison d’etre. They were there for prayer, worship, spiritual growth, and fellowship. Taking care of each other was a natural expression of the love they developed for each other. Please don’t mistake the Church for a political or social activism group. Oprah is great on the poverty and justice issues – she’s not so hot on promoting worship of the One True God. The Church is not supposed to be Oprah – it’s supposed to be the Church.

14.  There are days when I’m not sure I believe in God, and no one told me that “dark nights of the soul” can be part of the faith experience.

Dark nights of the soul can be part of the faith experience. Now you can come back to us.

15.  One day, they put out signs in the church lawn that said, “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman: Vote Yes on Prop 1,” and I knew the moment I saw them that I never wanted to come back.

It grieves me to see the church get involved in politics. Ed Stetzer writes, “When you mix politics and religion you get politics.” I believe that churches ought to stick to preaching Jesus and the gospel and not promote any particular political measure. I don’t know if your church put up those signs or if others in the community put them up, but the church shouldn’t promote any political activity. That being said, the Bible DOES address issues that come up in politics. There are good Christians who differ in politics.

Well, there you have it. Probably not the most eloquent response to your 15 reasons, but I wanted to give another perspective to all of the 18-29 year olds who have walked away from the church. The church is not perfect because it is filled with flawed humans. Nevertheless, God has instituted the church – it’s about His kingdom here on earth.

Perfect? No.

Growing in God’s grace? I pray so.

p.s. I don’t really imagine this ever getting around to Ms. Evans, but if you do know her shoot a copy of this over to her, would you?  😉

How about you? Have you had positive experiences with the Church?

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