Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Worship in the 21st Century Church

The church I presently serve has had a contemporary worship service for almost 15 years. They
have done this type of worship well for a very long time. The contemporary worship services at this church are some of the most deeply spiritually moving I have ever been in. What is different for me is having professional musicians as worship leaders. They have a completely different way of expressing things than I am used to hearing. Last week I heard these phrases during worship prep: “I will change instruments when I feel you ramping down.” “Don’t use a bunch of worship jargon.” “While you are praying I will be grooving in the background.” “Back out of the prayer time gently.” My favorite was when we were talking about opening the service and the praise leader said to the minister, “Just say something profound and spiritual.” Gosh, I thought everything I said was profound and spiritual. It is an interesting bunch to work with. I love them.
Several weeks ago I was engaged in conversation with one of our senior members who attends our wonderful traditional worship service. She was sharing with me about how much she enjoys the worship and music in the service she attends and really can’t understand why anyone would want to attend the contemporary worship. To her ears, the music is just noise. I am thinking she feels about contemporary Christian music like I feel about rap music – that’s not music. She was shocked and amazed when I told her that some of the deepest spiritual experiences I have ever had were during contemporary worship.
I have been involved in what is known as “Contemporary Worship” since the early 1970’s. I have seen it move through several changes and the genre has morphed in many ways. Each decade has fostered a change in songs and musical approach – a generation of praise music. When I was first involved there were no publishing companies involved in the movement and songs were passed around the church and the nation through word of mouth. If I heard a song while worshiping in Kansas City, I would write it down and take the song to my church in Louisville. It was cool to watch that happen. It felt a little 1st Century.
Slowly publishing houses were established that started providing songbooks, chord charts, music tapes and then CDs and then worship DVDs. There was Maranatha Praise and Worship, Vineyard Music, Hosanna Music, Integrity’s Praise! Music, Brentwood-Benson, Word, Hillsong and the list goes on. It has grown from nobody publishing that “new stuff” to a multimillion dollar industry.
Contemporary/Praise worship has been exciting to me because it was a great opportunity to move from doing worship as I had known it to something very different. The greatest change needed was not in music style but in the basic intent in our worship and what it accomplished. I know, because I was there, that for most of the 20th century the church became proficient in developing what could be called the consumer church. People came to church to consume; to have spiritual their needs met; to develop networks of friends; to have a place to marry them and bury them; to have Christian education provided for their children; to hear a good sermon (whatever that is) and enjoy some good music. People often bluntly state that they are church shopping. We came to church to take, not give. Mission and ministry opportunities were extremely limited. The emphasis was on hands-off missionary work. We paid someone to do it for us and prayed God never called us to the mission field. Not us – we had lives to live.
Sunday morning was the ultimate consumer experience. We went to a worship service. There was little emphasis on worship and a great emphasis on consuming. The average family went and occupied a pew and felt we were doing our Christian duty and doing God a favor by just showing up. We sat and watched and observed and critiqued. It wasn’t that blatant but it was close. After worship we gathered with family and friends and critiqued the sermon. Was it interesting? Was it understandable? Was it doctrinally correct? Was it too long? What was the theme? Next we moved on to the choir. Did you like the selection? Could you understand the words they were singing? Did anybody hit a wrong note? Next on the agenda were the Elders. How were the prayers? Too long or too short? Did they wander from the subject? Sunday dinner was critique time.
In all of the critiques I sat through, I never heard the most important, necessary and critical question asked: “Was God pleased with our worship?” In fact, mention of God never showed up in those sessions. It is not because we didn’t care about God, it was because we were a part of the consumer church and in that church those kinds of questions never came up.
My excitement about and hope for contemporary worship was that we could move from watching worship to participating in worship. And, for me, a few times in a few places that has happened. And when it does, it is awesome. God shows up and it is a powerful, moving, empowering and life changing experience.
Christianity in America still tends toward being a spectator sport that is watched and enjoyed but is rarely participated in. But I see a trend in the church of the 21st Century of a church that is becoming more missional, more participatory, more hands on. And that is happening some in worship. Lately many have been saying, “Don’t go to church; be the church.” May I add this: don’t go to worship; be the worship.
 Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved
 Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053.

Monday, November 24, 2014

5 Thanksgiving Thieves

My life experience tells me that being thankful is not at the core of human nature. Like most children my mother often suggested and sometimes demanded that I thank someone for something they did for me. It didn’t come naturally. I remember back in the days of pen and ink communications having to write thank you notes to aunts and uncles for gifts I was not all that excited about or thankful for. Sometimes saying “Thank you” was much more mechanical than it was heartfelt.

Being thankful is one on those things about us that change when we come to know God. Thankfulness is just a part of knowing God. God is good and knowing God brings a new dimension to our lives: A deep heart of thanksgiving. Scriptures are full of the people of God giving thanks to God. If you want to see something powerful, do a scripture word search on thanks, thankful and praise. Those words are all over the Bible. For example: “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” (1 Chronicles 16:34)

For most of us we are taught that the appropriate time to be thankful is after we have received something, when something has gone our way, when we are pleased with an outcome. Looking at scripture we sometimes see that there other times when it is appropriate to praise the Lord – to be thankful. Rarely does it occur to us to praise God first, before something happens. What we lose sight of is that it is powerful to praise, that there is power in praise. Get a load of these unusual battle plans. The Israelites are about to enter into battle with an enemy with far superior numbers. “After talking it over with the people, Jehoshaphat appointed a choir for GOD; dressed in holy robes, they were to march ahead of the troops, singing, 'Give thanks to GOD, His love never quits.'” 2 Chronicles 20:21 (MSG) It never world have occurred to me to send the choir first into battle. (Though I do know a couple of battered pastors who might consider it.) The choir went first because of the power of praise. God inhabits our praise and there is power in the presence of God.

As Thanksgiving approaches I am reminded of my father’s habit of asking each of us at the Thanksgiving dinner table to share something we were thankful for. I am fairly sure I missed the meal the year my reply was, “I would be thankful if I didn’t have to answer this stupid question and could go ahead and eat.” That didn’t work out so well for me.

So, what are you thankful for? Like my father, I suggest making a list of things you are thankful for. Here is my partial list.

  • My amazing wife
  • The joy of having seven wonderful children and 11 grandchildren.
  • An ever expanding circle of friends to share in living the life God has given me.
  • The ability to live a full life even with some health challenges.
  • A warm home and something to eat.
  • This church family.
  • My parents and how they raised me.
  • Being a part of a great church.
  • Beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
  • Laughter.

Thankfulness is difficult to learn and easily deflected. I find it interesting how one bad thing in our lives seems to cancel out all the good things? Like I used to tell the ambulance crews I supervised, “One ‘Oh, crap’ cancels out 12 ‘Atta, boys.’” Sometimes it seems there is a conspiracy afoot to keep us from living lives of thankfulness. I call these things Thanksgiving Thieves.

Thanksgiving Thieves come in many forms and many disguises.
  1. Greed & Coveting. What I have is never enough. I want more. If I have something I want something that is better. If someone else has something and it is better or different than what I have then what I have suddenly becomes junk. Modern Advertising is predicated and based on our inherent greediness. Advertising is designed to cause us to desire to have more and new and better stuff.
  2. Selfishness & Self-centeredness. It is difficult to be thankful when it is all about me. I can never have enough. It can never be anyone else’s way. I never stop wanting and taking more. I never notice that someone else has needs. I am never really thankful because I deserve to have everything I want any time I want it. Being self-centered doesn’t allow us to take our eyes off of ourselves and see what is going on around us. We have no perspective, nothing to compare our lives to. That is one of the reasons being involved in ministry or going on a mission trip is such an eye opener. It forces one to realize how fortunate and wealthy we are.
  3. Short sightedness. If you have ever been having a good day and had one person crab at you, most likely for the rest of the day you probably told everyone who asked that you were having a bad day. One blemish makes us feel ugly. One mistake makes us feel stupid. One sin makes us feel unworthy.
  4. Concentrating on the negative. I lived in a small town in Iowa for several years. We were surrounded by farmland and most people in the community either farmed or worked in the nearest city. Don Altman was a one armed farmer I knew in central Iowa. I knew many farmers lacking parts of their anatomies. These are farmers who attempted to release a bound up corn picker without turning it off. Like most Iowans, Don was no nonsense and direct and fun to be around. We were in the second year of a rather severe drought. It was early winter and several of us were at the Coop gathered around the stove listening to the farmers complaining. Don was greatly respected in the community, so when he spoke others listened. After listening to several minutes of nonstop complaining Don spoke up. “Is anybody at your house real sick? Was your house warm last night? Did you have breakfast this morning? Then shut up.” When I was a kid and ran around without shoes, I loved the good feelings of the surfaces under my feet until I happened to stub my toe. Suddenly all I could think about was that toe. My world revolved around that toe. My day was ruined because of that toe. Like me as a child, sometimes all we can see and think about is what is wrong; what we don’t like; what is not going our way. Somehow we can ignore all of the good and great things going on around us. A part of what causes that is that we truly believe that everything going on in our lives should be good and perfect. We deserve that. For something to be going against our will is just wrong, it is unnatural. Just as being positive is a habit, so is being negative. Always seeing the bad in a plan, a person or a possibility is learned behavior through practice. We can learn to do better.
  5. Taking and never giving. We start life as takers. If we weren’t we would not survive. Part of growing up is learning to be a giver. Unfortunately some people never learn this. They remain takers and develop a life-view that causes them to believe that everything should be given to them. And when life fails to deliver, they are both amazed and angered. Expecting everything to be going your way causes one to not be truly grateful for all one has. Why should I be grateful for getting what I deserve?

Like most things Jesus talked about, being thankful is, at the core, about attitude. We need to turn it around and develop an Attitude of Gratitude. A great piece of Biblical advice to develop this thankful attitude is found in Philippians 4:4-9. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to GodAnd the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Gratitude is something we practice and develop in practicing these things.

  • Replace worry with prayer.
  • Replace complaining with thanksgiving.
  • Replace stinking negative thinking with positive praiseworthy thinking.
  • Put that into practice and the Thanksgiving Thieves who steal our thankfulness will fade out of our lives.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.   

He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053.

Monday, November 17, 2014

When Done is Done

This past Sunday I preached on my favorite topic, Jesus. I am a huge fan.

It was the final sermon in a series. And even though it isn’t Easter, I preached on what happened on the cross. I thought my topic was well worn and would not be new information to many of the veteran church members I was preaching to. I was shocked at the response. Over a dozen long time church members took the time to speak to me about how what I said was news to them and shared about how much that information impacted them. Some suggested I share the sermon in a blog. So here it is.

In John 19:28-30 (NIV) we pick up the narrative of Jesus at the very end of his life during the crucifixion. “Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

When Jesus said “It is finished,” he said a mouthful. It has always been my observation that God sent Jesus to earth at the time He did because his story would be recorded in Greek. As all Biblical scholars know, Greek is a very exact language; much more exact than English. The definition of words in Greek are much clearer than in English. The word used to record Jesus’ final phrase is, in Greek, Tetelestai. It can be translated as: It is finished; it has been finished; it has been accomplished; as used in the market place – it has been paid for; written on a bill of sale it said, paid in full; at the end of a task – it has been accomplished; written across a court document of sentencing after the prisoner has done his time and paid the price – paid in full.

As we look at the scene of the crucifixion it would seem that the Romans government is in charge. Because of that, it seems strange that Jesus would be the one to declare that “It is finished.” Though it looked like his life (and death) was out of his control, he remained in control. Jesus was not killed on the cross. The scripture tells the reader that Jesus gave up his life. It was his choice. It was a sacrifice on his part for us.

When Jesus made this sacrifice we must investigate to understand what has really happened here. What has been accomplished on the cross? What has been finished? I believe several very important things happened. The Old Testament law and prophecy of the coming Messiah have been fulfilled. The power of evil on this earth has been broken. We no longer have to live under the control of sin. We don’t have to be controlled by: Others; By the fear of failure; Set free from our past and past mistakes; We are completely forgiven; It is paid in full – It is finished – It is done. Peter wrote to the early church and said, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” 1 Peter 3:18 (NIV) Jesus did all of this so that he could bring us to God.

That is what Christ has done for us – Done for you. A question that begs answering is, “How does that impact your life?” It does in many ways. You can stop holding on to your failures. You can stop beating yourself up. You can stop being defensive. You can stop letting the past control the present and your future.

It is our human nature that causes us to struggle to understand and embrace God’s mercy and grace. We, somehow, want to earn and deserve what Christ has done for us. If that were possible, Jesus’ death on the cross would have been avoidable and a horrible insult to God and humankind. When we attempt to earn God’s gift of forgiveness I believe Jesus would say to us, “How dare you. I paid for your mistakes. It is finished.”

In Galatians 5:1 (NKJV) the writer gave some wonderful advice, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

It is finished. Your relationship with God is not dependent on what we do; it is dependent on what Jesus has done. What is done is done. It is finished.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @bill45053.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Off the Deep End

The following is taken from my latest book, Developing a Significant Church.
As a child, I remember going to church every Sunday. My father had a policy. The only valid reason for missing Sunday school and church was a death in the family… yours. Since I survived childhood, I attended church a lot.

Some adults who were forced to attend church as children resent that and refuse to
attend as adults. That wasn’t my response. Attending church was a generally good experience for me. The church I grew up in was a positive, loving place. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a place where I experienced the reality of God. Nice… but more like a club than a church. I sense that my home church wasn’t all that different than most other mainline denominational churches of the time.

At our church we practiced religion. A nice, comfortable, socially acceptable, not terribly spiritual, let’s not get carried away with being Christian style of religion. It was understood that if one got too religious, too excited about God, he or she was to be viewed with suspicion and some degree of disdain. Getting too religious could immediately call one’s credibility into question. Such a person was said to have “Gone off the deep end.” God forbid that I, or anyone I know, should go off the deep end.

This concept made absolutely complete sense to me. It is my natural inclination to be cautious, to live life close to the vest, and to stay in the shallow end. Perhaps that inclination comes from my introverted, shy nature. Perhaps it comes from an incident from my early childhood. My family was on an outing to Cox’s Lake for a day of fun in the sun and water. Our good time was interrupted when I, at the time a preschooler, decided to follow my older brother out into the deep water. This idea would have had a more successful outcome if I had either been using a flotation device like he was or had known how to swim. Since I did neither, I casually strolled in over my head… and drowned. You know, like suck in a bunch of water and stop breathing drown. Fortunately someone noticed. A lifeguard dragged me out of the lake, pumped the water out and replaced it with some air. Needless to say, since that day I haven’t really enjoyed being in the deep end.

After my jaunt to the deep waters at Cox’s Lake, I spent most of my growing up years in the shallow end of any pool I entered. I was a shallow end person when it came to swimming and when it came to practicing my religion. I felt safe and comfortable in the shallow end. Unfortunately, as I got older and my contemporaries moved on to deeper waters, it also became lonely and boring in the shallow end. As I entered young adulthood, neither swimming nor practicing my religion was much fun. So I quit doing both. Most of us can stand anything except boring.

Then one day I was challenged to get into the deep end. For swimming it came when I took a job as a program director at a Boy Scout camp. Like every other Scout camp in America, ours had an aquatics area. The Camp Director, Don Craig, expected me, like every other staff member, to take and pass a swimming test. That test required me to swim several laps in the pool. A friend coaxed me into the deep end and off I went. I passed the test. I could now enjoy going into the deep end.

It was my older brother who challenged me to enter the spiritual deep end of Christianity. He was the one who explained the difference between being religious and having a relationship with the Living God. And that made all the difference in the world. As I grew in this new found relationship, Christianity became exciting and fulfilling… anything but boring. Occasionally it has been a little frightening. I am constantly aware that I am in over my head, just a little out of control. Instead of experiencing my faith as soothing and safe, it is now challenging and unsettling.

Before I could get into the deep end I was forced to answer an important question. Why was I confining myself to the shallow end of life? What kept me in the places I considered safe? Fear, mainly. I was afraid. I was afraid and too lazy to learn how to swim. I sense that my motivation or lack of it is not unusual. Those are probably the same reasons most people doom themselves to lives lived in the shallows of life.

May I encourage you to consider, as I did, the differences between living in the shallow and deep ends. What happens in the shallow end? Not much. People wade around and splash around and play silly little repetitious games. In the shallow end one is surrounded by the immature – children. And we all know what children are known for doing in the pool. Is that where we want to be? I think not. In the shallows I perceive myself to be totally in control. But not much of any consequence is happening. It is safe but boring.

What happens in the deep end? The deep end is for those serious about swimming and diving. It is where the purposes of being in the pool really happen. One is surrounded by others who are going for it and one can be challenged to grow and develop. Being in over one’s head tends to give opportunities for one to grow and develop new skills and competencies. Spiritually speaking, the deep end is where God is. So, if you want to hang out with God, you have to get into the deep end. That’s where I want to be.

I really don’t see how any adult Christian could take being accused of splashing around in the shallow end as a compliment. So, if anyone ever accuses me of being off the deep end, and unfortunately no one, as yet, has, I will certainly take it as a compliment.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Organic or Not

A few weeks ago a new grocery store opened up down the street. As is par for the course, the parking lot was packed for several days as the locals checked out what this particular store has that makes it unique. Its big selling point is that it has a wide choice of organic food.
Organic food – I just love that new and popular designation of special foods that are supposed to be raised properly and thus be good for us, the consumers. Ever since I first heard the term, my question has always been; what is inorganic food? I thought all food was organic. Sure, my mom had some wax fruit on permanent display on the dining room. We didn’t eat it because we knew it was inorganic fruit. As in, not real fruit.
Oh, sure, I get it that organic food is supposed to be better for the consumer. I will also admit that I doubt that it is. In my short lifetime little that has been promised has been delivered. Some people would say I am a cynic but I believe I am just a realist. After a lifetime of hearing the latest truth being uncovered through the newest and best research and then later having those scientific facts debunked by the some newer and better research which was, in turn, proven to be wrong and then going back to the original premise as correct, I am done with that crap. In my lifetime milk was good for you; bad for you; good for you; now it is again bad for you. Really?
But why the use the term organic for a certain type of food? That is like calling some beef organic beef or some humans organic humans. We are all organic. You know, made out of carbon atoms. The dictionary definition is: “of, relating to, or containing carbon compounds: relating to, being, or dealt with by a branch of chemistry concerned with the carbon compounds of living beings and most other carbon compounds: having the characteristics of an organism : developing in the manner of a living plant or animal.”
It seems the definition for “Organic” is already taken. How about trying something else? Couldn’t those excited about “organic” think of a more appropriate term. According to my research (I Goggled it.) the term organic in meaning a type of farming has been around a while. “In 1939, Lord Northbourne coined the term organic farming in his book Look to the Land (1940), out of his conception of "the farm as organism," to describe a holistic, ecologically balanced approach to farming—in contrast to what he called chemical farming, which relied on "imported fertility" and "cannot be self-sufficient nor an organic whole."
Over the past sixty plus years I have tended many a garden. I have done the “holistic” all natural approach and I have been reduced to using chemicals. And I must be candid with you: when concerned with what effect what I spread on my vegetables has on my body, I am more comfortable with a white powder than I am with cow crap. I have seen the cows. I have scooped the manure – which means I have seen it close up and smelled it in a confined space – and I am less inclined to put the green beans that have been fertilized with cow dung in my mouth than beans that have been dusted with some white powder.
I realize I am not of the genre of people who are attracted to “Organic foods.” I have butchered chickens, cows and pigs so I realize they don’t come from the farm clean and wrapped in clear plastic. I have personally raised corn, beans, lettuce, radishes, potatoes and tomatoes and know how challenging it can be to nurture them and keep the insects and diseases off of them. I also have been around long enough to know that everything that is labeled “organic” is not necessarily really organic. Look for the USDA seal.
Are organic foods better for you? That is still up for discussion. In an article from the Mayo Clinic that is pro organic food the authors write: “Organic food: Is it more nutritious? Probably not, but the answer isn't yet clear. A recent study examined the past 50 years' worth of scientific articles about the nutrient content of organic and conventional foods. The researchers concluded that organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs are not significantly different in their nutrient content.”
The other question is: Is organic farming better for the environment? One would think so but the jury is still out on this, too. One of the differences between those who farm organically and those who don’t is the types of pesticides they use. Both do use pesticides. There is an interesting article on the subject here.
But may I suggest a better label for “organic foods.” Since they are produced with natural fertilizers, how about the label “Poopie foods.” It may not attract as many health conscious middle class Americans, but it sounds a bit more honest.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @bill45053.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Ghost Story

My father was a story teller. He grew up in a time that just about the only entertainment was story telling. So good story tellers were in high demand.

When dad spoke of his growing up days in the 1920’s and 30’s it sounded to me like he lived centuries ago. Much like my stories must sound to my children and grandchildren when I talk of party line telephones; listening to the radio at night; 45 records and black and white televisions with ten inch screens. When dad was a child they didn’t have indoor plumbing, electricity, (no electric lights or machinery) central heat or cars. In his early childhood they didn’t even have roads. He told of quarrying limestone on their farm, hauling it to the proposed road site and watching as the county came by with a rock crusher and there was their first road. The roads weren’t paved for several more decades. His mother cooked huge meals on a wood burning stove. He often woke up on cold winter mornings to find that a sheet of ice had formed on his wash basin. They farmed with mules pulling their equipment instead of tractors. They didn’t listen to the radio because they had no electricity to power one. It sounded like another century to me.

With little else for entertainment, storytelling was a well-practiced art in rural Kentucky. Robertson County was and is a very hilly part of the state. Farming was difficult with little tillable land. Most of it was in the bottoms. So the county was sparsely populated. It was not unusual to know everyone in the county. This was especially true for my father’s family because my grandfather McConnell was the County High Sherriff. So my father hung out with story tellers of all ages and thus perfected the art. When my father told a story you could see they people he was talking about; hear the surrounding sounds; smell the scents in the air; hear the accents of those speaking. In my mind’s eye I can still “see” the stories dad told.

He loved to tell of, as a boy of about 13, going with his girlfriend and a couple of other couples to visit Mide (Like wide with an m.) Fogg. (You just gotta love that name.) Mide was an old “widder” lady who lived back in a hollow in a tiny log cabin. When the kids came on a Sunday evening to visit, Mide dressed up in her good black dress and pulled out her best pipe for smoking. Her eyes were a bright sparkly blue that stood out in her thin wrinkled face. She was thin on the verge of being scrawny and had not a tooth in her head. She had a high, almost squeaky voice and, of course, gummed her words.

The young people would arrive in the very late afternoon. On this particular occasion it was late fall – around Halloween. There was wood smoke in the air and rustling leaves underfoot. The couples gathered on Mide’s porch to share the local news and gossip for a while. As darkness closed in someone would always ask her to tell a true ghost story. Ghost stories abounded in the hills of Kentucky and Mide claimed to have witnessed several of them. She would lean back in her creaky old rocking chair; take a deep drag off her pipe and as a faraway look settled into her eyes she would begin.

“As was the custom in those days, when a farmer had a big job to do that required more help than the family could supply, neighbors gathered for a work day. The task of the day was to clear a field of trees and prepare it for cultivation. The women had gathered in the house to prepare a huge dinner for the many hands gathered. The children were in the side yard play games and the men were down the hill clearing the land. It was almost dinner time (The noon meal.) when one of the men appeared at the kitchen door and looked in the screen. One of the ladies noticed him and called to his wife that Clarence was at the door. When she went to the door he looked a little strange to her. He just stood there and looked at her, then waved goodbye and walked away. She thought that was a little odd, but then, Clarence was a little odd. She thought little more about it as went back to patting out the biscuits she was famous for in Robertson County. Within a minute a ruckus arose down the hill and several men sprinted to the house. They brought the news that the tree Clarence had been cutting down had fallen on him and killed him. A strange silence fell over the women in that kitchen. It seemed obvious to his wife and to all to whom she told her story that Clarence had stopped by on his way out of this life to say goodbye.”

That may have not been exactly the way Mide told it, but that was pretty close. She told that story and several others. She claimed they were all “true”, first person ghost stories. She had those youngsters on the edges of their seats and managed to scare the waddin’ out of them. And then she sent the kids home.

It was fall so the sun set earlier each evening and nighttime was amazingly dark back in those unlit Kentucky hollows. Nobody in those hills had even heard of a flashlight. The trails in those pitch black nights were difficult to see and basically impossible to follow after dark unless one had his way home memorized. Dad said he wished he hadn’t brought a date that he felt obligated to walk home. Without her in tow, he would have taken the most direct route and run all the way home.

Happy Halloween. May God gift you with a Mide Fogg to enrich your life and scare the bejesus out of you.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @bill45053.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Can a Church Be Unfixable

In conversation with a clergy colleague whom I used to coach in leading a church in transformation (Her church ran out of money to pay me but that hasn’t stopped us from talking.) she asked the somewhat rhetorical question, “Are some churches unfixable?” That really got me thinking.

Theoretically and theologically (According to my theology which believes God can do anything.) no church is unfixable. When I consult with churches, I am often asked by church pastors and lay leaders if I believe their church is going to make it. Honestly, sometimes I have my doubts. It is not unusual for a church to not realize their need for revitalization and transformation until things have become grim. Many of our churches are not just unhealthy, they are on life support and it is time to pull the plug. But if you suggest that to the church leadership they want to give you a sound beating. If church leaders would direct their passion toward transformation instead of denial, more churches would be transformed and flourish.

Most leaders are unaware that a normal church loses an average of 10% of its membership on a good year. If there is change in the church or if there is conflict, the decline will often be much more dramatic. That means that most churches need to bring in a minimum of 10% of their present membership to stay even. Honestly, it is an unusual church that experiences that much “Growth.” Thus, most are consistently losing ground on a regular basis. Often the decline is very slow, incremental and hard to detect. Unless, of course we have one of our good old fashioned church fights that poisons the atmosphere in the church and speaks volumes to the surrounding unchurched about all that is wrong with the church. No doubt the unchurched look at the church in open warfare over issues that seem inconsequential to them (And are usually inconsequential to the church, really.) and think, “See, I knew there were good reasons to not go to church.” Every preconceived negative notion they have about the church is proven when we just have to have a fight. One of the best things we could do for evangelism and church growth is to think about how our fight will affect others before we have one. And then not have it.

But the question of the day is, are some churches unfixable? To answer that, allow me to share a story from early in my ministry journey. I was a student minister the Christian Church in Waddy, Kentucky. The Christian Church in Waddy is one of those wonderful churches that are willing to put up with the ineptness of student ministers to have a sermon every Sunday and help kids like me gain some experience and hone some skills. I still think fondly of those wonderful people. One summer day a car pulled up in front of the parsonage and a lovely young woman, who was a stranger to me, emerged. She introduced herself and told me that her mother was a member of the church. Her mother, Nellie, had not attended for a long time because of a chronic illness. In fact, she had stopped by to let me know her mother was in the hospital in Shelbyville and ask me to go visit her. I was happy to and left almost immediately for the hospital.

When I entered Nellie’s room I was struck by how small she was. A better word would be emaciated. She could not have weighed more than 100 pounds. As we conversed she shared that she had come to the hospital because she could not hold down any food. I asked her how long she had been ill. She said, “About 20 years.” I thought, but didn’t say, Wow! Later in the conversation I mentioned that I had met her daughter and we talked about her for a while. Having a child, I assumed she was married so I asked about her husband. At that question an amazing change came over her. Within seconds Nellie’s demeanor totally changed. No longer warm and engaging, she became hostile and surly. It was as if a storm had suddenly internally overtaken her. Her voice even changed. It took on an edge. She told me she was no longer married. That she and her daughter’s father had divorced. From her profoundly negative response I thought the divorce must have been recent. Divorces take some time to get over – to get past. There is a grieving period.

Again I was completely floored when she said they had been divorced for several years. My mind started clicking and I asked her exactly how long they had been divorced. She replied, “About 20 years.” In my head the lights flashed and the warning sirens went off: Twenty years sick and twenty years literally hating her ex-husband’s guts. Sounded like a significant connection to me.

Being young and stupid I asked her, “Nellie, have you ever considered that your illness and your obvious hatred for your ex-husband could be connected? Could it be that your hatred and unforgiveness are causing you to be ill?” She looked me directly in the eye for what seemed to be a very long time and then said, with the light coming on behind her eyes, “Yes. I believe there is a connection.”

“Would you like for me to pray with you so you can forgive your ex and seek God’s healing?” I will never forget her reply. She simply said, “I’d rather die.” And she did.

So, can a church be unfixable. Yes, but only if it chooses to be. When a church is confronted with the need to change; with the need for transformation and refuses, it is saying the same thing Nellie said to me all those years ago in that Shelbyville, Kentucky, hospital. I’d rather die.

And that is, to me, the surprising answer I hear from many churches. They don’t say they would rather die. But they do refuse to change and that is basically declaring a death wish. And that is Unfixable.

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at http://bookstore.westbowpress.com/Products/SKU-000690219/Developing-a-Significant-Church.aspx. He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/pages/William-T-McConnell/812462358785951 or on Twitter @bill45053.
Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved