We’ve Got To Do Better: Making Ministry the Heart of Church

I am not among those who have given up on the local church.

But I AM critical of the way we in the U.S. –and especially the Southern U.S. -do church.

Let’s be honest. 

Most of us go to church because it makes us feel good, refuels our spirits for the week ahead and is a safe spot to park our kids for a few hours respite from the demands of parenthood.

An added bonus is that sometimes we get to contribute to a cause, a mission or a personal need without having to get TOO involved.

So we come away feeling pretty good about who we are, what we believe and how much we “sacrifice” for others and the Kingdom.

But this is not what Christ came for folks.

He didn’t come so that we can have a weekly club meeting, soothe our souls and shut out the world.  He came so that desperate hearts on the fringe could draw near.

He rent the veil so that no one who trusts His finished work is excluded.

Not even the messy and imperfect.

Not even the poor or unlovely or slightly crazy.

We have got to do better.

We have got to make church a place where people who have no hope feel like they are welcome.  We have got to reach out and reach down and reach across and pull those hurting hearts inside.

I know (believe, me, I know!) that it takes more energy than you want to exert.  It takes more flexibility than a crammed-full schedule can allow.  It takes more time and more emotional investment than any of us really want to spend.

But this is what Christ came for.

He came to expose the barriers religious people had erected between God and man. 

He came to make a way where there was no way.

How welcome are the truly broken to our house of worship? Do we want to see their pain, entertain their questions and offer hope that includes walking the road alongside them and giving support for the long haul?

Jesus came to heal the broken.

Healing takes time and resources. It requires personal commitment to those God brings into our lives. It is messy and can’t be boiled down to a formula or pamphlet.

Jesus has invited is to be His hands and feet.

Will we accept the invitation?

christ has no body but yours teresa of avila

The Danger of Rushing to Serve After Loss

There are all kinds of doubts that creep in and take up residence in a mind after child loss.

Most of them have to do with the child that ran ahead to heaven.

But many are also about me:  “What should I be doing? Where should I go from here?” 

For those of us active in church ministries, we wonder, When do I return to service?”

There can be a lot of pressure to “get back in the saddle” if you fill a large role in a particular ministry.

No one ever wants to find a replacement for an effective Sunday School teacher, youth worker or hospitality hostess.  It’s hard when you have months of warning and nearly impossible when the vacancy opens up suddenly and unexpectedly.

But does the difficulty in finding my replacement mean that the burden is on me to keep serving, even when I am utterly broken, empty and unable to do so?

I don’t think so.  

I’ve learned many things through child loss and one of them is this:  the world still turns and things still get done in spite of the absence of any single person.

God invites us to join in the work He is doing in the world.  It is HIS work, not mine.  And He will absolutely assure that it gets done.  If I am unavailable to fill a position, then He will raise up another to fill it.

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  

His yoke is easy, His burden light.  

yoke-of-oxen

We are never to serve out of a place of exhaustion, weariness, emptiness.  

Grief certainly exhausts us, wears us down and depletes our resources.  

Take a season-as long a season as necessary-to allow the Holy Spirit to minister grace, mercy and love to your broken heart.  That is the calling of Christ on our lives.  To listen and follow our Shepherd-our Gentle Shepherd-who promises to bind up our wounds and tend our shattered souls.

heals the broken hearted

People who have not suffered the death of a child will not understand.  But it won’t be the first time you’ve been misunderstood if you’ve ministered for more than a minute.

Don’t let others’ expectations or your own fear of failure keep you from hearing the call of your loving Father to come to Him, to lean on Him, to rest in His arms as He sings over you.

rejoice over you with singing

There will be a day for ministry again.  

I promise.  

crown of beauty planting of the lord

 

Holy Week Reflections: Clearing Our Own Temples

Growing up in church I was always taught the story of Jesus clearing the Temple of money changers from a couple of perspectives.  One, that He experienced and expressed righteous anger-as distinct from most of our own selfish human anger; and two, that doing business in God’s sanctuary was a no-no.

As I got older and began studying Scripture for myself without all the cues provided in Sunday School booklets for how I should be interpreting the verses, I came to a little different understanding of this very familiar passage.

The Temple was constructed with several “courts” in successive distance from the Holy of Holies where the Presence of the Lord dwelt above the Mercy Seat.

second_temple1

The outermost court was the Court of the Gentiles where even “unclean” outsiders were invited to draw a bit closer to the God of Israel, to hear about the great Jehovah and hopefully, have their eyes opened to truth.

But by Jesus’ day, the Jews had turned this court-this place of invitation for seekers-into a place of convenience for themselves when coming to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice and Temple tax as required by the Law. 

This enraged Jesus! 

Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text:

My house was designated a house of prayer;
You have made it a hangout for thieves.

Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.

Matthew 21:13-14 MSG

Now, most of our churches are scrupulous about not commercializing the space set aside for worship.

But we are far less careful about not constructing barriers to the outcast, limping, broken, stranger and alien.  

We are just like the Jews-we want our worship space to be convenient and comfortable for US-for those who have already heard the Gospel-and do not mind if our convenience and comfort make it hard for those who do not know Jesus to even get inside the doors.

There are no money-changers in our lobbies but we have our own version of crowding out seekers. 

We have our own customs that we don’t want to change even if they have nothing to do with Biblical Christianity.  We have our favorite Bible translations even if they use such archaic language most people can’t understand it anymore.  We insist that our services remain tethered to times and days and forms that don’t suit modern schedules or sensibilities.

Jesus was angry because the people entrusted to invite others to know and embrace the Truth were making it impossible for them to get inside.  

I’m asking myself this Holy Week, do I do the same?

Am I building walls or opening doors?

Am I more concerned with my own comfort and convenience than another’s access to the Lord I claim to serve?

jesus-hand-facebook

 

Love in Action: How the Church Can Serve Grieving Parents and Other Hurting Hearts

One of the hardest things for me  to hear is how sometimes the church fails to minister to grieving parents.

I don’t think it’s because leadership decides to ignore them and others who have intractable situations.

But I do think that our modern emphasis on programs and platforms often leaves hurting hearts behind.

I am a shepherd.  My goats and sheep depend on me for food, for guidance and for their security.

And every day I am reminded that a shepherd’s heart is revealed by the way he or she cares for the weakest and most vulnerable of the flock.

Read the rest here:  Loving Well: How the Church Can Serve Grieving Parents and Other Hurting People

How “Sunday School” Answers Isolate Wounded Hearts

We of the conservative right rail against political correctness.

We chafe at the constraints imposed from government, media and society that make us feel strangled when we share our faith, our opinion and our life values.

“Free speech!” we cry.

Yet the church has its own form of political correctness that often silences and isolates the very ones we should be serving.

It comes in the form of quick Scriptural replies to heart cries of “Where is God?” (“He’s right here beside you, faithful and good.”)

“Why did this happen?” (“All things work together for good for those that love the Lord.”)

“I don’t think I can take it anymore!” (“I can do all things through Christ.” Or “We are more than conquerors through Jesus.”)

Where is the compassion in that?

I firmly believe that:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

2 Timothy 3:16

Yet, wisdom isn’t only knowing WHAT to say, it’s also discerning WHEN to say it.

wisdomSunday School answers only serve to widen the gap between hurting hearts and the hallelujah crowd.

What wounded hearts need first is understanding, not correction.  They need to know that church is a safe place to speak the pain they carry.  They need to be welcomed into a community of grace and mercy where healing can begin.

in every encounter pretty

 

Strong or Weak? How Labels Harm the Hurting

Labels and categories can be helpful.  When cruising the grocery aisles I’m thankful for the signs that point the way to “vegetables” or “baking needs”.

But labels can be harmful when applied to people.

Read the rest here:  Strong or Weak? How Labels Harm the Hurting

Fifth Sunday Singings and a Mama’s Broken Heart

Fifth Sunday Singings are a tradition down South.

We gather in the evening or afternoon every time there is a fifth Sunday in a month and sing, sing, sing.

Sometimes there are featured groups but often it’s just the faithful few who enjoy picking favorite hymns that might not get much air time on Sunday mornings.

Inevitably the hymns that are chosen most often include a verse or two about “when the roll is called up yonder” or “the streets of gold” or “amazing grace”.  Because almost all of us have a hymn etched on our hearts during a time of trial or sorrow or deep suffering.

And it’s the promise that God is faithful, His word is true and this life is not all there is that gets us through.

But for this mama’s broken heart, a few choruses in and I’m in tears.  

While I am thankful, thankful, thankful that I know I will see my son again, these hymns remind me that a lifetime may lie between here and there.

The waiting is hard.  

waiting with hope water