Thoughtful Boldness

Thoughtful Boldness on God's Love and Grace

November 6, 2014
by kflabarge@gmail.com
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Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore…

Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore…  and how 4 acts of love will make your church irresistible

The above book, written by Thom and Joani Schultz was one that I had purchased and read months ago.   It was sitting on the top of a stack of books on the edge of my home library bookcase, (because I have long ago run out of actual shelf space.)  I had read the book quickly and eagerly, thinking, “I really need to do something with this great information.”  –But then I had gotten caught up in the weekly and daily cycle of regular church work; and the book and it’s great perspectives just sat there on my shelf like a rose bush waiting to be planted in my garden.

But when my plans for continuing education got changed, I looked around for other options and found The Future of the Church Conference in Loveland, CO.  I was delighted to see that Dr. Leonard Sweet was going to be there, and the conference itself was going to be hosted by Thom and Joani Schultz at GROUP publishing.  There was even an optional preconference three hour session about the Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church book. I eagerly made my arrangements and flew off to Colorado.

While there, I was reminded of many important things in the book.  Every year about 4000 churches are closing.   Across the country, church attendance and giving is falling.  Church buildings are being put up for sale in record numbers.  When Thom and Joanie recognized that the institutional church is in a crisis, they went out and did some research.  The question they asked people is one that is extremely important.  “Why don’t you go to church anymore?”

#1 Reason)  “I feel judged.”   According to the studies done by Lyons and Kinnaman, 87 percent of Americans label Christians as judgmental.  91 percent label Christians as anti-homosexuals. With so many people either having friends or family members who are openly GLTB, even the commonly used Christian phrase of, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” was considered extremely offensive and a way for Christians to practice their, “Holy Hate” judgment of others.

#2 Reason) “I don’t want to be lectured.”  The younger generations especially are sensitive to this.  Raised in an educational system where they would discuss issues and work in groups to learn and solve problems, the old school lecture model where you sit and passively listen to the teacher or preacher is extremely foreign and uncomfortable to them. Unless the message is a story on a screen with special effects and a soundtrack, the culture has switched to a method of learning that is participatory and open to comments, questions and feedback.

#3 Reason) “Church people are a bunch of hypocrites.” 85 percent of Americans agree. They believe that the church has an impossible standard of perfect behavior, one that even leader after Christian leader fails to meet.  Instead of people being open and honest at church about their struggles, everyone who goes to church puts on their best face when they walk through the doors.  Instead of being a place where people can be open and honest about life, the perception is that church is instead a place where everyone pretends that everything is wonderful.  The icing of false happiness that drips off church people is toxic to the un-churched. They see right through it and want absolutely nothing to do with it.

#4 Reason) “I don’t experience God in Church.”  It is sad, but according to the Barna group only 44 percent of people say that they experience God in church. While the church staff and members spend most of our time, energy and resources creating and putting on worship services, they are more often than not working to connect people to God.  Perhaps it is because we put so much emphasis on learning about God with our minds, or perhaps it is because it is so easy for the service to veer off the track and to become either painfully bad quality or just an entertaining human performance.  But church services are frequently coming up empty when people report finding God there.

Thom and Joanie then went on to discuss four ways that the church can try to address these very real and valid concerns.  They call these for ways of being, “Acts of Love.”

#1 Act of Love)  Radical Hospitality.  Jesus was the best at this. He was constantly going to and hanging out with the worst sinners he could find.  Prostitutes, tax collectors, the blind, the lame, the untouchables –these were the people that he sought out and ate with and talked to.  Unlike our churches where only respectable people go, I suspect that if Jesus was here today, he wouldn’t often be in church, but he would be in the bars, the strip clubs, the coffee shops, and the party scene.  And everywhere he went, he would treat people like they were important and beloved children of God.

#2) Fearless Conversation.  We really can’t show the love of Christ to someone unless we know who they are and what they are going through.  We can’t help them understand something unless we know what their questions are.  And we can’t grow ourselves if we are not honest with ourselves and with our own doubts and questions. It is a proven fact that more spiritual growth occurs with active participation than with passive listening. The conversations that we have at church need to go much deeper than, “How are you?”  –“Doing fine.” We need to open our hearts to each other and show each other God’s love and care.

#3) Genuine Humility.   Jesus, while he was the God of the universe, came and served the needs of the common ordinary people. The key word here is served.  We are truly to love others, to work together to serve others without being selfish.  We have to stop trying to impress others with how perfect we are and with how well we have it “all together”.  We have to think of others as being more important than ourselves.  We must be open to listening and learning from others, no matter who they are.  We have to admit our mistakes and faults and struggles.  We have to be the broken humans that we actually are for a change rather than pretending to be holier than thou Christians.

#4) Divine Anticipation.  What is God doing in your life? How is God speaking to you?  Are you open to the presence of God in your daily life or are you too busy with your chores, deadlines, bills and facebook to even pause to listen for what God may be saying?  God is everywhere and speaks to us through the Holy Spirit in a still small voice.  Our job is often to simply shut up and quiet our constant inner critic and listen to God for a change.  We need to make opportunities for silence, for us to simply rest in the presence of God and to feel loved.  We need to be spiritually open and aware of the God sightings that happen in our life, and to be willing to share them with other believers at church.  God is not done with us yet, but so often we are busy acting as if though we have already arrived; that there is no room for God to do more spiritual work on us.

In conclusion, there is much work to be done in the church, but not all of it is what you think it is.  Our huge efforts to keep everything running the same as it ever was, is the best way for the institutional church to keep on its current trajectory of decline and irrelevance.  Our best way forward is to get real about who we really are and to begin to truly care for the most hurt and broken people we know. With radical hospitality, fearless conversations, genuine humility and being attentive to the Spirit of God; we can become a church that bears good fruit of love that has eternal value. Are you willing to give it a try with me?

October 5, 2014
by kflabarge@gmail.com
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Cultural Changes and the Church
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The idea for the Pony Express came out of necessity. California had experienced a gold rush, they were part of the still growing union of states and the population living there needed to be able to have fast reliable communication with the rest of the country back east. To that end, the Central Overland  California and Pikes Peak Express Company established a mail relay system. The system was a series of stations which had fresh horses. The goal was to build the stations no more than 10 miles apart, the distance a horse could run at top speed without needing to rest. The system was elaborate. There were swing stations which only had fresh horses, and home stations in which the riders could rest after riding 75 miles in a day. The riders were young men, no older than 18, no more than 125 lbs, who had the courage to ride at full speed through all of the dangers along the trail. About 187 stations were built and over 400 horses were purchased for the project. The horses along with the 120 riders and several hundred personnel worked together to deliver mail across the western wilderness in four days. The Pony Express was an organizational and operational success!

 However the system that started its operation on April 3rd 1860, closed its   operations on  October 26, 1861, two days after the transcontinental telegraph reached Sacramento, CA. Even though the Pony Express system had done nothing wrong, something new came along and made what they were doing obsolete.

In the church, we also can have traditions and practices which may no longer serve us well. For example, the practice of a bride walking down an aisle runner in the sanctuary was once something that was done out of necessity. In the eras when most streets were unpaved and churches were un carpeted, the guests coming to the wedding would track mud into the church on their boots and shoes. By the time that the bride was to walk down the center aisle, the route could be filled with dirt which would leave unsightly streaks on a wedding dress and possibly ruin it for any future daughter to potentially use. To protect the bride’s dress and train, an aisle runner was put down for the bride to walk on. Over the years, the reason for the aisle runner was forgotten, and still today, brides will often pay for them and incorporate this expensive item into their wedding plans; even though their original purpose has in many cases become obsolete.

As culture changes around us, as good stewards of God’s time and resources, we as a church must constantly ask ourselves if the way that we are doing things is still in step with the way that things work today.  Are we really meeting a need with what we are doing?  Or are we just feeding the horses in our own version of a Pony Express?

 

August 29, 2014
by kflabarge@gmail.com
21 Comments

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The other day I was shopping in Costco and saw a display of neon signs for sale. Next to a stack of boxes, there was one sign that was plugged in and turned on.  It cheerfully read, “OPEN” in red surrounded by a royal blue border.   –This was a typical neon sign that you would see in a restaurant window or put up next to the door in a shop.  For a few seconds I imagined what it would be like for our church to have a neon sign like this.  I imagined that we could put it in the Chestnut Street Door window and turn it on during the Wednesday Community Lunch.  We could also turn it on Sundays for our worship service, during the times when AA and Recovery were having their meetings, and we could even have it turned on during office hours.  –It would be a very easily understood message by the public.  People are used to having open signs telling them when a business was open for them to come in and purchase things or to order their favorite Chinese entree. For us it could be used to signify that the building was open and that folks could come in for one purpose or another.

            But then I thought about the other uses for the word “Open”.   Are we as a church actually people who are open?  Are we open to the Holy Spirit coming into our lives and inspiring us to actually live as followers of Christ?  What would it look like if we as a group of people really strived to be open to the Holy Spirit?

            What about our minds?  Are our minds open and searching for new and better answers to the questions of our faith?  Are we open to new information, new research, new archeological findings, new translations that can be used to build up people’s faith?  Or are we closed minded people, determined to keep doing things the way that we have always done because we can’t for a minute imagine that there could be anything new that may be worthwhile?

            What about us as a community of people?  Are we open to others, to newcomers?  Are we open to other’s new perspectives, new cultures, new recipes, new friends?   Are we people who are so narrow and closed off that we only concern ourselves with what is happening in Allegan County, Michigan? Or are we open to learning lessons about ourselves and the world from what is happening today in Ferguson, Missouri as well as Syria, Gaza and Israel?

            The more that I thought about it, the more I thought that it would be extremely helpful if each of us wore a neon sign around our necks every day.   –That way we could turn it on to signify that we were up, awake and open not only to the leading of the Holy Spirit, but open to listening to new ideas, to forming relationships with new people, to learning and growing and becoming who it is that God designed us to be.  Those people who were not up to the task of being open to God and others could just turn off their signs, so that people could know to avoid them and to not waste their time offering them their friendship, and their new ideas…

            While it would not be cost effective or remotely practical for everyone to purchase and to wear a $79.99 neon sign around their necks, (let alone  drag around the extensive combined weight of the sign and its necessary battery pack!), the idea of being “OPEN” in our spirits to the presence of God, and open in our minds to new ideas and to new friendships and relationships is something that we as followers of Christ do need to be trying to do.  Every morning we need to choose if we are going to be open to new possibilities and people and let folks and their new ideas come into our lives; or if we are just going to remain closed and lock ourselves and our resources away.   Are you going to be open today? I hope so. Amen.

April 15, 2014
by kflabarge@gmail.com
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What is your purpose in life?

“To find out what my purpose in life is, if there is any.  I wonder if there is a reason why we are here.” –Robert Kenny

Robert is from Grand Rapids and is a first generation American.  His is also a recent Graduate of Grand Valley State University with his bachelors degree in business administration.  His plan is to get his MBA from Davenport and to ultimately get a job with some company in the manufacturing import and export business.  Robert is trilingual, and is fluent in English, Vietnamese and French.  He also knows a little bit of Spanish and a few words in German.  Currently he is working hard at Sweetie Thai on 28th st in Grand Rapids, but he really enjoys getting to know more about other cultures through their language and through their people.  If he can’t get a business job in manufacturing imports, he plans to teach English overseas.

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April 7, 2014
by kflabarge@gmail.com
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What is your purpose in life?

” God brought me back for some purpose, I don’t know what that is.” –Marilyn Kucia
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Marilyn has an amazing story.  In 2009, she was working two jobs and was  happily married to the love of her life, Leo.  Leo had been in the Navy and his career was installing and repairing HVAC systems.  Marilyn adored Leo.  Her eyes still light up when she talks about him.  He was the kind of guy who would volunteer to play Santa Claus, or who would dress up like a clown and entertain crowds as an amateur magician.  Marilyn remembers how he loved to play chess and how he would always do his crossword puzzles in ink.  The two were blissfully happy together.

Then in March of 2009, Marilyn lost her full time job leaving her with only her part time one.  They were still reeling from this blow when Leo had a massive heart attack. The attack put him into the nursing home, where he slowly made progress.  One day Leo had a terrible fall at the nursing home.  He lost his short term memory permanently.   When he finally came home, life was very different for the couple.  Leos next heart attack was fatal.  He died in September of 2009.

By March of 2010, Marilyn herself had gotten sick and she was the one in the nursing home.   She had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and couldn’t breathe.  Her liver was shutting down and she was also battling a massive infection.  Because she had always been a person who was constantly busy doing things, being sick was hard for Marilyn, she didn’t want to accept that she was as sick as she was.  She got worse.  –Twice while she was in the nursing home, they called the priest in to give her last rites.   But Marilyn didn’t die as everyone expected her to.  She battled back from the edge twice.  Finally in August of 2011, she was well enough to leave the nursing home in Illinois and to go live closer to her family.  She had been in the nursing home for a year and a half.  Now physically disabled, she was unable to return to her career in accounting.  She just doesn’t have that kind of stamina anymore.

Today, Marilyn lives alone in a one bedroom apartment in Allegan.  She still gets together with her sister and her brother who live in the Allegan area, and she is honestly trying to figure out what God wants her to do with the rest of her life.  She doesn’t know why God brought her back, but she is open to whatever it may be.

 

 

April 5, 2014
by kflabarge@gmail.com
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What is your purpose in life?

“To love everybody equally.”  –Daniel La Mountain

Daniel is the part time custodian at First Presbyterian Church of Allegan.  He was honorably discharged from the military and is a disabled veteran.  He spent 2 years in the Navy and enjoyed seeing the world, and then spent 7 years in the Army and enjoyed the physical adventures that challenged him there.  Today he lives in Paw Paw and when he is not busy cleaning up the messes that we make at First Presbyterian Church, he is busy raising his two beautiful daughters Sumer and Skye and spending time with his wife of 12 years, Kristill.

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April 4, 2014
by kflabarge@gmail.com
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What is your purpose in life?

“My purpose is to be a guide for my family and my husband.”
–Nancy Klinkers

Nancy has lived in the Allegan area for the last 25 years or so.  They first bought a cottage in the area while they were still living in Borculo, but eventually they moved to the area permanently.  Nancy has been married for 57 years to her husband Gary, and through thick and thin, through many challenges and health problems, they have been there for each other.  Nancy and Gary have four children and eleven grandchildren and great grandchildren that she keeps track of.  This past summer, their granddaughter Veronica got married to her beloved Troy in a beautiful countryside ceremony and reception right in Nancy and Gary’s backyard. The weather, the bride and the happy smile on Nancy’s face were all lovely things to see on that day.

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April 3, 2014
by kflabarge@gmail.com
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What is your purpose in life?

“I don’t know my purpose.  Apparently, I haven’t succeeded at it yet.  I feel that we are here for a purpose, and when we succeed, that’s it.  –My life will be over then.  So God will let me know and will call me home when I succeed at my purpose in life.”
–Jim Richardson

Jim was born and was raised in Allegan, Michigan and he graduated from Allegan High School.  He has lived in Allegan all of his life, except for the two years when he went and lived on the West Coast.  His career was repairing and painting cars and he established his own business in Allegan called, “Jim’s Auto Body Repair”.  For 30 years you could find him there on Ida Street working on all kinds of cars.   12 years ago, he sold the business and formally retired.  Jim is married with 7 children and too many grandchildren to keep an accurate count them all, although he did tell me that he is on the look out for the birth of his first great grand daughter in May of 2014.  Jim notes that he says “Grace” every day, because that is his wife’s name, and that for lent he has given up boiled okra.

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April 2, 2014
by kflabarge@gmail.com
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What is your purpose in life?

“To make people happy.”

-Krista, Jenison Burger King
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Krista is the happy, smiling face that will frequently greet you at the front counter at the Burger King on Baldwin in Jenison, Michigan.   After I gave her my order, she complimented me on my scarf and because it wasn’t busy, we got to talking.   When I asked her to participate on my blog, she was happy to do so, and quickly said that her purpose in life was to make people happy.  Then she went on in more depth. “Life is too short to be grouchy.  I try to make people smile.”  Krista has worked part time at the Burger King there for about a year, but in January she started her own business selling Premier Jewelry.  She hopes that it will blossom into full time career.  I asked her for a catalog, and she happened to have one with her.  She took the time to show me the crosses on pages 9 and 10.  There also on page 9, the catalog has a quote called, “A Dose of Hope” by Joan Horner.  It says, “No matter what business we are in, we have the perfect vehicle to share a personal touch. There are people everywhere who are hurting, lonely, in need of a smile, a dose of hope. Take time to care and to make a difference.”   Krista gets what it means to care for others and to make a difference in other people’s lives.  So if you need a dose of kindness or a smile or a beautiful piece of Premier Jewelry, stop by and see Krista.

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March 29, 2014
by kflabarge@gmail.com
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What is your purpose in life?

“To help people realize their full potential.”
–Dan Garland

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I stopped by the Tuesday Morning store to pick up a little reward for Elisa.  And there I met Dan Garland.  Dan’s boss Christy had been on my blog a bit over a week ago, and so Dan also agreed to participate in my Lenten Experience Experiment. Dan is a special education major at Grand Valley University.  He has about 2 years of school left to get his bachelors degree. While he grew up for while in the Grand Rapids area, his parents moved around a lot but ultimately ended up coming back.  Dan’s heart is all about helping people, and that is evident by his great attentive attitude toward the customers who come in the Grandville Tuesday Morning.  Those special education kids in the future are going to be very fortunate to have a man like Dan looking out for them!