Thursday, August 27, 2009

New toys

Now that I am, according to my dear wife, edging toward geezerhood, I probably don't have as much use for this as in my younger years. But nonetheless, despite the encroachment of "old age" I'm very excited to have a super deluxe new deer stand to go bowhunting with this fall. Karen and the kids did a great job of conspiring together to keep it a secret for weeks and gave it to me with much fanfare. All of which was great.

Now all I need to find is a landowner with an overpopulation of deer and a heart sympathetic towards deer hunting addicts...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I turn 36 today. I celebrated the morning by going out to a driving range to hit golf balls with a friend, there to discover a sport that I am even worse at than tennis. Seriously, who knew that hitting that little white ball could be so challenging? I'm hoping another 47 buckets of balls might make it so that I don't totally embarrass myself were I to actually go with a friend to an actual golf course.

Anyway, turning a year older always makes me turn reflective. Since I'm a Crohn's patient, I always consider myself lucky to turn another year with no major complications to life, but I'm realizing that it's highly possible I'm at the halfway point, which hardly seems possible. Life's days often pass slowly, but the years race by. And so I'm thinking today about what the next 36 years will bring.

My prayers are that they will bring...

36 more years of faithful service to Christ in which He is exalted in my speech, thought, conduct, and ministry such that when the final day comes, I hear "Well done."

36 more blessed years with Karen of learning to love her as Christ loved the Church and growing grey and soft physically while we grow stronger in love for each other.

36 more years of seeing my children embrace the faith of their father as their own (as I did), of doing each child's wedding ceremony, and of seeing my grandchildren raised to know the Lord from infancy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The mini-church and the megachurch

I've been doing some thinking lately about the American church (unusual for me, I know) and wondering whether or not it has been good for American Christianity. Now please understand, I am trying to be as objective as possible here, since I am not a mega-church pastor and most likely never will be, so I am concerned that people not hear my words as proceeding out of envy and jealousy. But since we tend to assume that large church = good church, I want to offer some research that may support my conclusion that we aren't necessarily benefiting as the Body of Christ from the rise of the megachurch.

The overall growth of the American church has flatlined during precisely the same period as more and more megachurches get planted and the existing ones grow ever larger. At a very minimum, this is an interesting correlation. According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey of 50,000 adults, the number of people who self-identify as Christians has dropped 10 points (from 86% to 76%) between 1990 and 2008, while the number who identify with the category "No Religious Affiliation" has nearly doubled (to 15% from 8%) over the same period. Meanwhile, the percentage of people who identify as Born-Again/Evangelical has remained constant at roughly 34% (of a much larger population). Which means that there has been a fall-off among nominal Christians, but no increase in true Christians above the rate of population growth.

According to the research published in Natural Church Development (p. 46-48), the smallest churches won the most converts (percentage-wise) and evangelistic effectives declines precipitously in direct correlation to an increase in attendance. For example, over a five year period, the average church with less than 100 worshippers (i.e., average 51 people in attendance) won 32 people to Christ. By contrast, the average church of 100-200 people also won 32 people, churches with between 200-300 won 39 people, and churches with 300-400 won an average of 25. Capping this off, megachurches (avg. attendance 2856) won just 112 people in the last five years. This means that, while in raw numbers, a single megachurch won 2x the number of people as a single "mini-church," they did so while being an average of 56x larger. So, the mini-church is 16x more effective at reaching people than the megachurch. To really break it down, if we broke up the average megachurch of 2,856 people into 56 "mini-churches" of 51 people, then over a five year period, 1,792 people would be reached vs. 112 for them if they remain assembled as one megachurch.

All of these stats and figures seem to say this: Perhaps our American assumption that bigger = better is wrong. Perhaps by growing larger, what we have accomplished is simply an increase in the number of people who can be passive Christians who don't reach their neighbors and friends with the Gospel. Perhaps we are due for a reconsideration of our basic assumption that the best way to reach lost people is by aggregating as many of them into a room to hear an evangelistic message as we can. I know these things cut cross-grain with our evangelical heritage and American culture, but maybe those things are inhibiting, rather than contributing to, the expansion of God's kingdom in America. Maybe we need to have the vision to think small if we want God's kingdom to be large?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Now for something really different...

When my dw and I lived in Dallas, we made several trips over to the Mesquite Rodeo. We used to watch the PBR Championship series on TNN before it became Spike TV. We even watched a bucking stock ride/auction at the Fort Worth Stockyards. So you would think that I would be prepared for this, but I'm not. I give you: The 20th Annual Japanese Pig Rodeo Championship!

Actually, this reminds me of a story my dad tells about he and a cousin riding a family member's pet goat until he (the goat, that is!) laid down and wouldn't go any further.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A meditation on Love and Knowledge

Those of you with whom I serve at CBC have already heard this, but it's still something I've been chewing on since last week, so perhaps others might benefit. Regardless, here are my thoughts on part of chapter 1 of Philippians...

In Philipians 1:9, Paul prays “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” I find that interesting because a lot of times among Christians, you see people trying to divorce love and knowledge. They’ll say things like “I don’t need to know theology, I just need to love and follow Jesus.” Or they say, “Well dude, doctrine divides, but love for Jesus unites us all, so let’s just not worry about all the complicated stuff and just love Jesus together.” And in a certain, very limited sense, there’s some truth to that. Sometimes we Christians do put all of our beliefs into the same category such that the only person we can serve and worship Jesus with is our husband or wife (and we’re starting to have doubts about them!). But, even if there’s some truth to that, let’s not miss Paul’s point, which is that love and knowledge always go together, even and especially when it comes to Jesus. After all, we expect somebody who loves us to actually know us, right? That’s why we love it when our spouse brings us coffee with 2 creams and no sugar, just the way we like it. Because that little bit of care taken to first of all learn what we like and then to act on that knowledge communicates love at a deep level. It’s why when we’re looking for someone to marry, we look for somebody who “gets” us, who knows us deeply and loves us anyway. We want those who love us most to know us best. And so Paul’s prayer is for their love to increase in knowledge and depth of insight, so that they might love better the One whom they know more.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Political ironies

Isn't it strange that the very same people who have for years been endlessly whinging about the lack of "engagement" by the average American in the political process are now lamenting the high level of engagement by average Americans when it is going against their preferred policies? I mean seriously, if a fired-up citizenry, passionately committed to seeing a particular political issue (in this case health-care "reform") be decided in a certain way is a good thing, then it is a good thing even when it goes against your particular political principles. Protesting citizens are not by their nature a mob (Yes, I'm talking to you, Sen. Boxer!) nor are nicely dressed people necessarily fronts for some evil corporation (You too, Speaker Pelosi!). What they are is my fellow Americans, with just as much right to express themselves and peaceably assemble to protest as left-wingers from Berkeley or Madison. Or is it possible that some believe only left-wing protest is truly "authentic"? If so, that is intellectual base-stealing on a high level.

American citizens deserve to have their voices heard and to neither be lectured to by their political leaders about the supposed "ignorance" of their opinions nor pejoratively referred to in a way that makes them seem like goose-stepping fascists (Yes, I'm talking to you again, Speaker Pelosi!). Moreover, we deserve to have major political issues robustly, openly, and vigorously debated, not to have one side's policy preferences railroaded through without even a perusal of the massive bill which will reorder 1/6 of the economy and significantly alter the relationship between citizen and state. This is what living in a representative republic is all about.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Where have you been?

Since I didn't give any kind of a status update in the past week or so, some of you may have been wondering what happened to me. Well, to quote Mark Twain, rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. Karen and I had the blessing and privilege of spending the last week (Sunday night thru Friday morning) at Cedarly Retreat in Delafield, Wisconsin and after a week of no cell phones, no TV, and no computers, I am only just now getting back to my regularly scheduled life. It was simply way too relaxing to go on Sabbatical for a week, and I wasn't quite ready to "break the spell" until today.

Anyway, we spent the week simply being refreshed. The Cedarly folks took care of all of our physical needs so that we could take full care of our spiritual ones. So we slept (a lot! I finally got rid of the dark circles under my eyes), swam in the lake, went kayaking and walking and biking, studied the Bible together, prayed a lot, read, played Baggo, hearts, and Scrabble, and hung out our hosts and the other 5 pastoral couples who were staying at Cedarly with us. God met with us there in a special way, and showed me several areas that I need to address in my spiritual life and I gained a lot of encouragement for my ministry here at Chilli Bible. One of the areas I need to address is my practice of Sabbath. I know that since I am not under the Law, I don't have to keep the Sabbath, but it has become clear to me that I need to, lest my life and ministry break down utterly.

So, one of the things I am recommitting myself to is taking the Sabbath days the Elders have graciously given me and taking Sunday afternoon through Monday morning as a Sabbath. While I know I will sometimes have hospital visits or other ministry requirements then, I still can plan to rest, study, pray, and play during those hours, normally speaking. I've got to do this, so that I can serve God and His people out of the overflow from my life with God, rather than out of the substance of it (Don't know if that makes sense or not, but I hope so). Anyway, I am coming back encouraged, revitalized and recharged, and grateful to my congregation for letting me get away.