June 2010

Ready for a vocabulary lesson?

June 30 2010 by Bill Wilson

Stagnant. Boring. Aimless. Tired. Tepid.

What do these words describe? You? Your minister? Your church? Your Sunday School class? Your career? All too often, I hear ministers and parishioners alike using such words to describe all of the above. Far too many of God’s people and God’s churches find themselves with a shortage of passion and energy for the journey before them.

Many churches seem to be going in circles, without energy and lacking a sense of missional direction. Ministers talk about burnout and seem to have lost their focus. A sense of calling and passion has slipped away. Lay persons show up without preparing to worship. Life at the church becomes predictable. New ideas and suggestions meet with practiced indifference. Is it any wonder that eventually parishioners talk about their pastor, and ministers describe their congregation using such words?

Do you know how we got our word “enthusiasm?” It comes from the Greek, and is a blend of two words, one being en (in) and the other theos (God). Enthusiasm, as originally defined, means having God within us. Of course, over time, enthusiasm came to mean “any rapturous inspiration like that caused by a god.” Today, we are more likely to use this word to describe our feelings about a favorite athletic team or hobby than to describe what God is doing in and through us.

Perhaps it is time we revisit this word and reflect on its origins. The truth that God within us sparks enthusiasm and ardor is both biblical and healthy. When faith is healthy, it begins within and is passionate, heartfelt, spontaneous and authentic. It is less concerned with meeting the expectations of others and more concerned with giving witness to the One who gives us purpose and direction. It is when our religious practice flows out of guilt or meaningless repetition or thoughtless habit that it is thin, shallow and unable to hold up to the demands of life in the 21st century.

When our life in Christ flows out of a personal relationship that defines everything about us and gives us a center to build the rest of life around, enthusiasm is inevitable. Christ as the organizing center of all of life not only holds life together, it gives life meaning beyond the ups and downs of circumstances. Without that deep indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our congregation and the individuals who make up the congregation, we are prone to become like the shallow soil of the parable of the sower…unable to root deeply and endure the inevitable dry season.

Individuals can be enthusiastic, but so can congregations. When the body of Christ is “en theos,” that is, when local church life is grounded in God’s presence rather than ritual or personality or practice, then healthy enthusiasm becomes a defining trait of God’s people. The healthiest churches I know are not clergy-focused or program-focused or doctrine-focused. They are Christ-focused. Whether it be acts of worship or mission endeavors or teaching opportunities or fellowship events or outreach efforts, the persistent emotion underneath them all is a deep and authentic enthusiasm.

Emerson had it right: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” 

When God’s people are filled with the character and spirit of Christ, then great things are possible. Check your vocabulary, and let’s see if we can inject some new words into our conversations: passion, energy, enthusiasm, meaning, purpose. Those words describe the kind of church and church leader our world needs today. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health.)    
6/30/2010 4:06:00 AM by Bill Wilson | with 0 comments

It Goes Without Saying

June 14 2010 by Bill Wilson

Have you learned that nothing “goes without saying” anymore? That sobering truth runs counter to our tendency to think there are some universally shared assumptions that all of us agree upon. We may think that everyone agrees with us about what a family looks like, or what the Bible teaches regarding some pressing social issue or which is a more effective worship style. We stand before a congregation or a denominational group or even our own family and make huge assumptions that have no basis in reality.

I once heard a high profile preacher state with conviction: “It goes without saying that the pastor is the leader of the church.” You could feel the tension in the room rise several notches, and one insightful soul behind me whispered “you’d better let Jesus know about that.”

At McAfee’s Self Preaching Lectures in Atlanta this Spring, Dr. Robert Jones from Beeson Divinity School suggested that churches and clergy are especially prone to making these assumptions with regard to scripture. Lamenting the biblical illiteracy that plagues most congregations today, Dr. Jones urged his audience of preachers to go back to the fundamentals and re-establish the things we hold in common. Don’t take for granted that the building blocks of the faith are firmly implanted in the hearts and minds of your parishioners. In fact, he suggested, assume that they are not. Our biblical illiteracy means that seemingly clear-cut truths must be regularly revisited and reaffirmed.
  • Does it go without saying that prayer is a daily priority in the life of a believer?
  • Does it go without saying that sacrificial giving is the norm for God’s people?
  • Does it go without saying that judging others has no place in Christ’s church?
  • Does it go without saying that humility is more important in Godly leaders than charisma?
You get the idea. There are many things we may assume are shared values that are actually called into question every day. One of the signs of a healthy church and a healthy leader is giving focused attention to the fundamentals. Making Jesus the filter through which all such questions pass keeps us true to our calling. If a church can get clear about whose church it is, for example, much of the strife that characterizes congregational power grabs is negated. If the pastor thinks it is his or her church, or if the members think it is their church, or if the Deacons think they own the place, or if the super-pious Sunday School class thinks they call the shots, or if the contemporary worship group or the traditional worship group or the experimental worship group think they are in charge, the result is always the same: a fractured fellowship plagued by chaos and confusion. When we not only say but believe and practice that the church belongs wholly to Jesus Christ, and that all decisions and power and vision must pass through him and his example, then much of the chaos and confusion fade away.

Let’s spend some time in our churches articulating the things that we believe should go without saying. Here’s a short list of ideas to get you started. They will need constant attention and high visibility if your church is to move toward health. Do these ideas go without saying in your community of faith?
  1. We will address each other using the biblical injunctive: speak the truth in love.
  2. We will regard our differences as a gift rather than a problem. 
  3. We believe God loves the whole world, so we will love others as God has loved us.
  4. We will find our life by losing it.
  5. We will regard worship as an offering to God, not entertainment for ourselves.
  6. We will put our trust in God, not conventional wisdom.
  7. We expect to suffer and sacrifice, and will not complain when we do.
  8. We will make time in our schedules for God.
  9. We will direct attention to God, not ourselves.
  10. We want to live in a constant state of gratitude.
Some things really should go without saying. Of course, the only way something becomes a shared belief that goes without saying is when we say it over and over again and make it a core value that permeates all we say and do. Perhaps this is a good time to be crystal clear about such things.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health.)  
6/14/2010 7:30:00 AM by Bill Wilson | with 0 comments