Rural Church Killer # 2: “Us 4 and No More!”

In Rural America you will find some of the friendliest and most loving congregations anywhere. New believers and new families are welcome and are given the red carpet treatment. There are a few churches though, that taint the whole batch. They are the “us 4 and no more” churches. They are closed, cold, and unable to realize anything that comes close to the Great Commission.

They are suspicious of new people. They don’t like new people. They do their best to deter new people. They threaten their pastor if he even steps across the street to welcome a new arrival in the community. They have become a social gathering rather than a living body. They are wrong. They are not biblical and they are doing harm far beyond their own pews. The stories that people tell after making the mistake of visiting these churches are legendary. We have all heard some story of some old lady rebuking some visitor in some church somewhere for sitting in her crusty old pew. Now, I am very sure that this has happened but IT HAS NOT HAPPENED IN EVERY RURAL CHURCH OR EVEN THE MAJORITY OF THEM!

Unfortunately these few churches, who I believe are an extreme minority, have tainted the whole batch of rural churches. People really think that the majority of us are closed to the public. They really think that they will feel unwelcome if they visit. Those “us 4 and no More” churches are certainly killing themselves but they are also hurting churches who are mission minded. They are hurting rural churches who have a real desire to reach their communities with the Gospel. The rest of us have become guilty by association.

What do you think? Have you ever stumbled into one of these churches?

Published in: on July 31, 2008 at 1:40 pm  Comments (15)  

Garden Update

Sweet corn’s good. This is Buddy showing me when it’s ready to pick.

Published in: on July 30, 2008 at 5:50 pm  Comments Off on Garden Update  

Killer # 1 Materialistic Clergy

Over the next few weeks I am going to highlight some “killers” that are preying on our rural churches. I will make some assertions about pastors and congregations that deal with character and integrity. The first killer is materialism among our pastors. A pastor who cannot separate himself from the material world will never be successful in rural America. It is my opinion, based on what I have seen and heard, that materialism is an increasing problem among my peers. You need to know before you read the rest of this post that I have to suppress the desire for “bigger and better” every day. It is a very real struggle for me. My assertion is this: Because pastors are following the money instead of God’s call, we have and abundance of pastorless churches on rural routes.

There is a greed factor among our pastors today that seems to dictate where they will minister and to whom they will minister. I don’t think it is pervasive, but I do believe that it is present. We used to joke when I was in seminary, that upon graduation we would “go where the money is since God is everywhere”. That joke isn’t as funny anymore because I understand that many of us were not joking.

Where there is money, materials, and conveniences you are sure to find many churches, church plants, and the finest educated pastors available. Why are there so many churches in the inner city without pastors? Why have so many churches moved from the inner city to the suburbs? Why are there so many churches in rural America without pastors? Is it because God cares so little for minorities and country folk that He is steering the best educated and most passionate pastors to churches with large salaries? I don’t think so. I think it is because we have become materialistic and money driven.

I believe many of us have stopped trusting that God will supply our needs. I believe many of us have forgotten the secret of being content. We are confused about wants and needs. What we want is driving us to places that can provide for our carnal desire for more. What we want is driving us away from places that desperately need pastoral leadership but can’t afford our wants. We are not satisfied. We are unwilling to do what it takes to minister to people who can’t afford our wants. What if God required you to be bivocational for a season. . . would you? Have you limited God’s call by what you are not willing to live without?

Some of you are asking, “What about my family? Does God expect them to do without their wants?” Yes, he does. When did we stop believing that God would take care of our families? The truth of the matter is that we often use our families as our reason to avoid certain low paying churches. “I don’t want my family to suffer. My kids need good schools. My wife would shrivel up out there in the sticks”. Guys, if we are not teaching our families to love God more than stuff we might as well go sell insurance.

Paul warns us to be careful of materialism. While Paul is running down the list of pastoral qualifications he points out that an overseer cannot be “greedy for money” (I Timothy 3:3 also Titus 1:7) In I Timothy 6:6-10 Paul admonishes Timothy ( a young pastor) about being content as we pursue godliness.

Pastors, let me be very clear: I believe that what we want is often dictating where we will and will not serve. I believe that over the years our list of “needs” has expanded so much that churches can no longer afford us. Should churches step up and provide for you and your family to the BEST of their ability? ABSOLUTELY! Should YOU expect a church to pay for two brand new cars, your mid-life crisis Harley, an oversized house, your high dollar hobbies, private school for your kids, golf outings, and whatever else you add? I don’t think so. Those things aren’t bad in and of themselves, but if you can’t live without them in order to go where God wants you to be, then you are guilty of following your carnal material nature instead of God. This ever increasing problem is leaving many rural and small inner city churches pastorless.  What do you think?

Published in: on July 29, 2008 at 4:53 pm  Comments (13)  

Stuff I Learned On Our New Orleans Mission Trip

1. Your children can go to sleep and wake up about 8 times and ask, “Where are we?” Your answer will be “Somewhere in Mississippi”.

2. None of the relief money sent for Katrina has been spent on any road anywhere in Louisiana.

3. The nice people in Mississippi give you free cokes when you stop at their rest areas.

4. Interstate 55 is code for “bumpy concrete road”.

5. Gumbo, no matter how delicious, should never, never, under any circumstances be regurgitated.

6. If you visit the French Quarter and some guy walks up to you and begins making balloon animals for your kids while he quotes scripture, he is not a missionary. He will expect payment for the balloons and he will scoff at you when you give him 4 bucks in change. (Don’t judge me. It was 16 quarters or a 100.00 bill)

7. Apparently there are several balloon animal makers trying to earn a living within several streets of one another. You can be openly mocked (I was called a traitor and some dude stuck his tongue out at me) by competitors as you travel with your $4 dollar balloons made by the guy down the street.

8. The Cafe Du Monde must be French for “Throw your money here!”

9. Beignet is French for “very expensive donut”.

10. If you want to start a church in the greater New Orleans area and you are looking for a snappy name that will attract the masses, call your church “Home Depot”. They will come!

Published in: on July 24, 2008 at 2:07 am  Comments (1)  

Around the Table With Nothing To Add

I always feel like the odd man out when sitting around a table with other pastors or denominational leaders. I don’t ever feel like a true participant in the deep theological and methodological conversations that seem to pervade these gatherings. I never have anything to add. I am, at best, a spectator or a fly on the wall. I am along for the ride but I never get to drive. I am 35 and outdated. I am a moot point before I open my mouth. I am passe. I am. . . well you get the point. The conversation seems to always move quickly away from anything that I, or my church members, would be familiar with. Terms and definitions start flying around the table from all the latest books, which I probably should have already read, but just haven’t. Things that seem so relevant to some of my friends but somehow seem so distant and meaningless to me.

Here are just a few words, phrases, and questions that seem to dominate evangelical conversation these days:

1. Elders verses deacons. 2. How about a plurality of elders and deacons? 3. John Calvin versus Arminianism. 4. John Calvin verses. . . well just about everyone. 5. I have even heard John Calvin versus Calvinism. (I would personally like to see a loser leave town cage match between Calvin and say. . . . John Wesley.) ANYWAYS back to the list: 6. 20 new definitions of what it means to be reformed. 7. Nine Marks, Mark Dever, and John Piper. 8. Blended versus traditional. 9. Has your church become missional? 10. Do you vision cast? 11. How do you vision cast? 12. What do you think about a multi-site church? 13. What makes you and your church relevant to the culture around you? 14. What are your contextual concerns? 15. What do you think about Emergent churches? 16. Is your church incarnational? 17. Do you still use “Baptist” in your church title? 18. What kind of outreach program have you implemented? 19. How do you move people from the “foyer” of your church to the “living room” of your church? 20. What is your church planting strategy? 21. How do you assimilate people from your small group gatherings into the membership of your church? 22. And my all time favorite: “who is your target group”?

I usually walk away from these brief encounters with the outside world with a renewed sense of joy for how simple our rural route church is. We were simple before “Simple Church” was cool. I admit that, at times, I have struggled the last few years to figure out what kind of congregation our rural church is. Who hasn’t right? Where do we fit? Which book and ministry methodology best describes our experience in Cottage Grove? Which one of those pastor, teacher, and authors am I supposed to be like?

I wondered how my church members would feel sitting around the afore mentioned table as all the new buzz words began to fly. I imagine they would feel like I often do. They would have nothing to add to the conversation. They, like me, would listen intently and politely but would just feel overwhelmed. I think they would have that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach like I do at times when the conversation moves away from what is familiar. I think they would feel passe and outdated. They would wonder where they fit in. They would wonder if they should even have a place at the table.

Recently I came to a very important conclusion. It was life altering and earth shattering and it only took me about 3 years to discover. COTTAGE GROVE BAPTIST CHURCH KNOWS WHO THEY ARE ALREADY! We don’t have to struggle with identity. For over 100 years our identity has been set. We won’t sell many books and it won’t get me booked as the leader of any conferences but we know who we are. We are in a good place. We are healthy. We are a church that evangelizes, disciples, worships, and fellowships. We are known in our community as a church that cares (does that make us incarnational?). There are some things that have changed (technology) over the years but nothing has changed that would shake the foundation. We are basically doing what we did 100 years ago. We have Sunday school. We have a major emphasis on biblical preaching, discipleship, worship, and fellowship. Even though we are doing what we have always done people are getting saved and young families are joining the church.

About the same time I realized that Cottage Grove already knew who they were I realized that everone else around the table didn’t. It seems that all of Christendom is struggling for identity. Every new book and new term is another attempt at identity. The only time we have struggled over the years is when we have allowed ourselves to be drawn into everyone else’s attempt to be relevant.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is the same thing you’ve been doing. There is nothing wrong with redefining methodology and being open to change. There is something wrong with unnecessary change. I guess each pastor and church has to figure out when to back away from the book buffet and just be who they are. Perhaps a conglomerate of our church members should write a book on how to be relevant for 100 years without changing much. Maybe then we would have something to add to the conversation around the table.

Published in: on July 21, 2008 at 1:58 pm  Comments (12)  

Let’s Boogie

This is “Boogie” (Jim) and his wife Lena. He pastors the Delecroix Hope Baptist Church in St. Bernard Parish LA. I first met Boogie the July after Katrina. The church building they were meeting in had been destroyed by a tornado spawned by Katrina, and his house had been flooded by about 10 feet of water. The church needed a place to meet, so Jim and Lena opened up their unfinished home. They have been doing this for 3 years and are not institutionalized. I would have gone crazy one month into the ordeal!

About one year ago, God gave them a church building. Yep, gave them a church building. The building needed a ton of work, so Boogie and Lena just rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Two weeks ago they met in the church for the first time. The picture above was taken in the recently completed fellowship hall. God has grown the church to the point that they almost need to add on already.

We just spent the last six days with Boogie, Lena, and their church helping with Vacation Bible School. It was a great week filled with cookies, Kool-Aid, music, games, and Bible stories. Somewhere in the middle of the week I began to realize that Boogie wasn’t just building the physical building, but he was also moving his flock along spiritually as well. It is a slow methodical process that Boogie had been working on for years, even before Katrina.

Boogie had told me prior to coming that he was transitioning the church from being mission team dependent. We were there to teach his people how to do VBS. Boogie made this point very clear the last night we were there when he announced to his church that THEY would be doing Vacation Bible School by themselves next year. “We are ready and this should be our responsibility”.

That moment made the trip for me. It is rare to present at the moment a church moves from one point to another. Knowing the history of the church and the difficulty they have endured made that moment even more poignant. The people of God being moved by God to the place He wants them to be. Delecroix Hope Baptist Church is on the move to the Glory of God. So, hey there, preacher boys. . . when you guys feel the need to whine like I do at times about how slow things are going and all the resources you don’t have, you should just remember to “Boogie”.

Published in: on July 18, 2008 at 2:42 pm  Comments (4)  

Absent and Accounted For

One of the things that is so cool about pastoring a small rural church is the fact that people really care about their attendance.  It means something to be together in Worship and Bible Study.  They place value on the fellowship and worship they share.  People know I will miss them if they are not here so they warn me in advance of their absence.   Out of courtesy they let me know where they are going to be.  I love the fact that they know I will miss them. . . and I do.   

Family members don’t just leave without telling someone where they are going.  It would be rude and the other family members would worry.  So it is with my church family.  We pray for one another when we are absent.  It just so happens that this Sunday I, and several others, will not be there b/c of a mission trip.  I know our church will miss us and be praying for us.  I know that the entire Bush family will be at a family reunion this weekend.  I know that the Bruce family will be in Colorado.  I know that whenever my friend Buddy is absent it has everything to do with him taking care of his wife.   I am so grateful to be in a church where my absence and my church member’s absences are accounted for.

Published in: on July 11, 2008 at 3:04 am  Comments (2)  

It was just too much for him

Have you ever received news that just floored you. Andrew here was knocked out after hearing what was about to happen. We were a bit reluctant to tell him, but we felt he ought to hear it from us first. He just couldn’t believe that Danny Franks was starting a blog. Andrew thought that 600 miles would be enough to separate him from his tormentor. Thanks to the information super highway, the distance just got too close for comfort. The poor kid just fainted dead away.

Danny used to live just down the street from us at seminary. For some reason, Andrew just never took to Danny very well. When Danny would walk into the room Andrew would just clam up and retreat in his mind to a happier place, which was anywhere Danny wasn’t. Danny, being the wholesome Christian that he is, would take the opportunity to make menacing faces and threatening gestures toward Andrew. We can only believe that Danny somehow enjoyed seeing the tears role down his little chubby cheeks.

Well, here is the link to Danny’s new blog. Go if you dare. I’ve got to go give Andrew a nerve pill.

Published in: on July 9, 2008 at 2:45 am  Comments (2)  

When Do You Know Disciples Have Been Made?

We are supposed to be making disciple, right? You can find 101 ways to evangelize and disciple people but how to you know when you have succeeded at the task? The answer to that question is a bit subjective in our “win ’em at all cost” church culture. Have we succeeded after they have moved from the “foyer” to the “living room” of your church? Do they have to sign the Baptist Faith and Message in blood? Do they have to repeat the Apostles Creed by heart? Are they “fully devoted followers of Jesus” when they begin to tithe and attend every church service? How do I know ?

Well, I’m not sure, and I don’t think we can pin point the day when someone becomes a true disciple (I tend to believe when they are truly saved), but I do think we can observe positive movement in people’s lives. Sunday morning Michael came to my office with his daughter. He had led her to Jesus the night before, and they just wanted to report it to me. My day was set in the right direction. That night (we still do Sunday night church) Cris came to me with his son Jacob. He had been leading his son to Jesus for months as Jacob would ask questions. Jacob prayed, thanking God for salvation in Jesus and asking for forgiveness, without me having to lead him BECAUSE HIS FATHER HAD TAUGHT HIM. Isn’t that fantastic.

I am so glad that Michael and Cris (both in rural settings, by the way) were saved and that both of them had become more like Christ over the years. I am so glad that God allowed me to see them both have the opportunity to pass their faith on to their kids. I don’t know at what point in their spiritual formation that they became true disciples, but I do know a little girl and a little boy that sure are glad they did.

Published in: on July 8, 2008 at 2:12 pm  Comments (2)  

The Ministry of the Dunk Tank!

Ahhh, the 4th of July in Cottage Grove. Parades, games, bluegrass, barbecue, greased pigs, and fireworks! Here is a sample of the best 4th celebration in all the land. The 33rd annual Cottage Grove Freedom Festival!

First, you have to get you and your five kids ready for the parade. This year we all decorated our bikes.

You also have to register your float (bike) with the local Lions Club that sponsors the parade. While we were registering at the staging area, I saw my good friend Danny.

This is me waiting for the parade to begin. There is a TON of waiting. The trick to waiting around is trying to look very cool. I think I pulled the “cool guy” look off better than James Dean.

This is all of us leaving the staging area on our way into town. Do you know how hard it is to peddle a bike at 1/2 a mile per hour?

This is my eldest showing off what he won. Yippee. . . more pets!

My youngest son also played a ton of games and brought home his weight in candy.

And here we have. . . a mess just waiting to happen.

Some people were brave enough to put their heads in a tub of water where other people’s heads had been. My germ alarm was going off so I just couldn’t do it. The apples made a nice picture though!

This is how I spent the day. Getting dunked. Don’t tell me I’m not willing to take one for the team!

Here is a very slick pig being chased by very determined kids.

Before all the noise began my wife got this picture of our church. Beautiful isn’t it? I hope your 4th was as memorable as ours.

Published in: on July 6, 2008 at 1:11 am  Comments (7)