Friday, 3 March 2017

We Have Been Given a Job

The Church has a job. One job above all others.

It is a job given to us by our founder, our head, Jesus Christ. He said:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18a-20)
Jesus did not say, "Attract disciples from other churches." He said, "Make disciples..." so how are we doing?

I was reminded today of a church in a city in my province. It is a fairly large church. It is a church that has run Alpha in the past, but not at present. As I say, they have run Alpha but when I spoke to the pastor, I heard that they have trouble getting their people to invite, so now they are running a program purely for their own congregants.

I was talking to another pastor, who knew of this church, and said of them, "They tend to grow when other churches close." That statement was like a flash of light to me. It was a "Wow" moment. It was an insight that I realized is a problem I have seen in other places.

Church organizations do not exist primarily to receive believers from other places. Yes, it's nice to welcome people who may be new to the area, or Christians escaping from churches in denominations that have left the path of truth. But that is not our prime purpose. Our purpose is to make disciples. It is to guide those who have not surrendered their lives to Christ into a relationship with him and help them grow in that relationship.

So, how are we doing? How is your church at welcoming not-yet-believers who may come through our doors? Are we making them feel welcome? Are they making friends among us?  Even more important, most important in my opinion, are we the kind of church that an unchurched, non-Christian coming through our doors for the first time, want to come back to. Are they leaving their first service with us thinking, "I want to come back here."?

And if not, are we willing to change, not our message or doctrine, but our style - the way we present it, for their sake.



Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Good Night Louise

I was searching my video files for an Alpha video teaser to include with a post on my other blog when I found this, buried in the archives.

Leo Kottke is one of my favourite guitarists, but this song I found especially touching when I first heard it. I think it's partly because I have two daughters of my own whom I loved dearly as they were growing up (still do) and partly because of the women I met when I was coordinating Alpha in the Fort Saskatchewan Provincial Prison.

I now have two granddaughters in or approaching their teen years, and I ache for girls who suffer abuse, or are in unfortunate circumstances because their lives have been shaped by the abuse they have suffered. Sexual abuse, to me, is the worst kind, because in the face of sexual temptation, some men seem to have no conscience, no empathy or sympathy for the girl or woman who I think they must just see merely as a means to satisfy their immediate urges.

And many women seem trapped in the vicious circle of their lifestyle, unable to escape. Perhaps it's all they know and feel lost stepping out of that familiar territory. Perhaps because it's all they know, they literally cannot leave it because there are no other real options. I can remember speaking with female inmates and them telling me their dreams of a normal life upon release, but in some cases I winced, because I was sure their dreams were beyond reality because of the skills they would need, but didn't have, to accomplish them. I recall one particularly poignant episode here.

So goodnight, all you Louises out there.


Take Care

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Demise of Civility Matters

I thought this from Carey Nieuwhof made sense:

From here...
There should be a deep mourning and concern over the death of objective truth, because with it comes the erosion of civility.

Objectivity pulls us beyond ourselves. The things that are beyond us are the things that save us from ourselves. When a culture, for example, decides that murder will not be tolerated, that assault is punishable or that theft is a crime, it puts the brakes on our selfish and impulsive emotions. Human nature, after all, has a dark side. You and I have probably both felt like punching someone or taking things that didn’t belong to us. Occasionally, we might even wish that someone we don’t like had a shortened life span. What keeps us from acting on our impulses other than self-control?
Objective truth. The idea that somehow murder, theft and violence are wrong.

Also saving us from ourselves is the knowledge that if we do something offensive to a widely embraced standard, we will suffer for it. A fine. Jail time. Social shunning. This is good, not just for us, but for our country. But the logical extension of a post-fact, post-truth world, is this: who says I’m right and you’re wrong? Who even said it happened? I didn’t. That’s just you saying I did. And you’re wrong.

For thousands of years, we humans have tried to keep ourselves from ourselves. Surprisingly, the Gospel has fueled much of that. Because when you die to yourself, something greater rises.
The rise of self as the ultimate arbiter of truth is antithetical not only to the Gospel but to the very basis of civilization. Civilized people think beyond themselves. They care and they give. They put themselves second, or third. It sounds hyperbolic to say civilization is being threatened. But maybe it’s not hyperbole. Why love your neighbour when you can attack him?

Take Care

Monday, 23 January 2017

Haunting and Poignant

I enjoy reading Mark Steyn's website (linked to at the bottom of my page), not only because I tend to share some of his conservative viewpoints, but also because he often comments on various areas of pop culture, past and present. It is a wonderful source of information and trivia of music and entertainment for the last hundred years or so.

Leonard Cohen died a couple of months ago and through Steyn's website I learned of Cohen's song, "Dance Me To The End of Love." I found the video rather touching, showing elderly couples dancing with photographs of their younger selves as backdrops.

Little did I know the rest of the story. As explained by one of the comments on the You Tube video:

Leonard Cohen was inspired by the true story of the "Violinist of Auschwitz", Greek-Jew Jack Stroumsa! In this song, Stroumsa's wife (victim of the Nazis) speaks to him, through Cohen's voice, asking her husband to play her some music when she is being dragged toward the gas chambers. You see, the duty of Stroumsa in this camp was  to play classical music for the funeral procession of the naked victims who were told by the SS officers that they are going away just to get a bath. Stroumsa was forced to play this music as his melancholy farewell for unsuspecting victims; friends, neighbours, coreligionists and his very own family, all dragged in the same path of death with music in their ears... - Christos Tsanakas.

There is a personal connection with this. My wife's father was a Jew who survived the Holocaust in Poland. He lost all his family, and apparently narrowly escaped himself by finding a way to jump off the train on the way to Auschwitz. Sam himself was a musician and survived the rest of the war with help from the Polish underground and playing in bands to entertain Nazi officers.

He married Irene, my mother-in-law just after the war and escaped Poland for Austria just before the iron curtain fell. Eva was born in a refugee camp at Linz, and celebrated her first birthday on a boat on the way to Canada in 1949. God brought us together to be married in 1968.

Maybe that's why I find it so touching.

Take Care

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Afraid to Say Merry Christmas

The day before Christmas I was out doing some shopping. Every store I went to, the clerk said, "Have a nice day." And every time they did, I said, "That sounds kind of lame on Christmas eve. Aren't you allowed to say 'Merry Christmas?'"

Some then wished me a half-hearted Merry Christmas. One said, "You don't know who you're talking to." I wonder, why should it make a difference. Now, I'm not one of those, 'Let's keep Christ in Christmas' folks. Keeping Christ in Christmas has nothing to do with true faith in Christ. To those who have such a faith, Christ never left Christmas. To those without it it's irrelevant.

But I find it interesting how we have cloaked our traditions, so to speak, for the sake of... what? Typical Canadian deference? Embarrassment? Fear of offending someone? Who? There is a YouTube video of a Sikh gentleman encouraging the use of 'Merry Christmas." At a convenience store I often visit the staff are all Hindus, and are not insulted by "Merry Christmas," and not afraid to say it. Frankly, I suspect the only ones who might be truly offended might be militant atheists bent on removing all vestiges of religion from the public square, and who cares if they're offended. 😌

In any case, finally I walked in to another local gas station/convenience store after filling up my tank, and saw this sign. The clerk behind the counter spoke with an accent. I often patronize this store and the staff all seem to be newer Canadians. I told him how nice it was to see his sign and asked if the store was owned by Christians.

"No," he said, "We are all Muslims."

Now, who are we afraid of insulting?

No editorial, just found it interesting.

Take Care

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Perhaps the CIA Can Help Me Out (Updated)

Which means, "Hello," in Russian. At least Google says it does, so I hope it is not some terrible insult.

Blogger tracks page visits to this blog, and again lately there have been quite a few visits from Russia. In the hundreds in fact. My tongue in cheek title for this post refers to the current news that the CIA accuses Russia of interfering in the recent American election. Well, if they want to know about Alpha, I'll be glad to tell them everything they need to know, even with no hacking. I'd even come over to do training if they'd pay my way, although the only Russian I know is, "Hello." And that only to write.

Interesting indeed. Perhaps we will see a growth of Alpha there.

Есус ловес ею Jesus Loves you.
Есус ванц то кнов ею Jesus wants to know you
Ооо сан кнов хим алсо You can know him too
#аттенд Alpha #RunAlpha



Friday, 9 December 2016

Forgive Me, But I Have To Ask

The picture to the right is of an alleged hate crime committed in one of Edmonton's LRT stations against two Muslim women wearing hijabs. It is supposed to have occurred Nov 8, but did not become public until about a month later. This picture is ostensibly a screen shot taken from a cell phone video taken of the incident by one of the women.

Apparently, this guy pulled a rope out of his pocket, fashioned a noose, pointed to it, as in the picture, and said, "This is for you." Then he launched into 'Oh Canada,' all the while, I suppose, having the entire performance caught on camera. The picture and story went viral, as they say, and police were asking for help in identifying the culprit.

That was two or three days ago. The following day police announced they had a suspect in custody. Since then, the story seems to have dried up.

Why? Why have we heard nothing more? Why have we not been told the name of the suspect? Why have we not seen the entire video?

It occurred to me, right from the beginning, that there was way more to this story than what the vast majority of Facebook posters hysterically assumed was classic Islamophobia. I just don't think it seems like something someone in their right mind would do. In my mind, there are two possibilities; either the guy is mentally ill, dementia perhaps, or the whole thing was staged. It has happened before.

I was suspicious about even this above-linked incident from the beginning. First of all, who, being physically attacked, thinks to take the time to pull out their phone and begin recording it? Wouldn't one's first instinct be to turn away or at least defend oneself? It turns out I believe, although I don't think it was reported in the mainstream media, that this alleged assaulter was herself a Muslim woman, from Iran. The whole incident screamed of phoniness. In any case, the story quickly left the news - no account of the charges, a trial or a verdict. It may be too early to tell, but is the same thing happening in this latest incident?

What has this got to do with the subject of this blog, you may ask.

Well, it just got me thinking. As a Christian, I believe everyone should be treated in a civil manner; treated, to paraphrase Jesus, in the way we would like to be treated ourselves. And treated equally. But if the perpetrator of these so-called hate crimes had been proven to be a fundamentalist Christian, for instance, I suspect that fact would be all over social media, television news and print media. So the silence in this latter case is deafening.

As I said, I don't believe this is something that anyone in their right mind would do, so there must be some other explanation.

I'd just like to hear it.

Take Care

PS: If it turns out I am mistaken in my opinion here, I will issue an apology on this very blog, but let's just wait and see.

PPS: I see police have, with little fanfare, released said suspect without charges, which only serves to heighten my curiosity. It would be nice to hear, as a popular radio personality used to say, "... the rest of the story."

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Thoughts on Church Growth

I met today with one of my favourite people with whom to meet - Associate Pastor of Victory Church Lethbridge, John Albiston. He joined Victory in 2012 with the primary area of oversight being church growth. Senior Pastor Kelly Stickel joined Victory in 2011, and it is he that John credits with the change of vision that resulted in their growing in the last four or five years from attendance of about 250 weekly to over 1200 today, as well as having planted three other congregations with more planned.

Here are some of his thoughts:

Three Laws of Church Growth:
  1. Invite lots of people
  2. Don't suck
  3. Make sure people make friends
Numbers 1 and 3 are probably self-explanatory but #2 may need explanation. It's really just a way of saying, be the kind of church that guests you invite want to come back to, for whatever reason.

The breaking of any of these laws has consequences:
  1. If a church has no new people coming, it's probably because the church is breaking Law #1.
  2. If churches are obeying #1, but people are visiting once but not coming back, it's probably #2.
  3. If guests come for a few weeks, then drift away, it could be #3
One pithy phrase he uses is that fishermen don't catch the kind of fish they want; they catch the kind for which they bait their hook. In other words, a church hoping to attract young people will probably not have great success if they insist on keeping a service style that young people might consider dull and dreary. They will only attract and keep people who enjoy that kind of service. Maybe that's what they really want, but John quotes the six last words of a dying church, "We've never done it that way." 

One exception to this matter of service style was John himself. When his children were young they attended what John himself described as the most dreary mainline Protestant church, although John admits that at least the preaching was orthodox, as opposed to small-l liberal. The reason they stayed though was that his kids liked the Sunday School, so in that sense, they, "didn't suck." It's much easier to get to church when it is the kids who are saying, "C'mon, let's go!"

John also spoke of what he called both the Spiritual and the biological Great Commission.

The spiritual one we all may know:
"...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

But the biological one is found in Genesis 9 verse 7:
" fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”
In short, both spiritually and biologically, Christians are to, in his words, "make babies, raise the babies, kick them out so they can make more babies."

And one final thought - a concept John called, "positive deviance." Not only the mainline churches, but even many evangelical churches are declining in numbers, he says. So if 95% of churches are in decline, and 5% not, don't look at what the 95% are doing, or not doing, but focus on what the deviant 5% are doing, and do it. It is a concept I learned in the business world, and one that John applies in his own field; look at what successful people (businesses, churches) are doing and do it yourself. Copy excellence.

Random thoughts, but ones I found interesting.

Take Care

Edited to add:
First of all, John messaged me already to tell me that attendance in 2011 When SCL Stickel arrived was closer to 250, so I have changed that above.
Second, I had scribbled down a note during our conversation this afternoon that turned out to be, "Relay race through time." Another of John's thoughts - the church is a relay race through time. It doesn't matter how well or fast you run your leg, if you fail to pass the baton the team will lose.

Brilliant analogy, IMO.