Tag Archives: church

Have church people stopped singing?

It seems to me that church people don’t sing like they used to.

First, a few caveats:

  1. I really don’t know about churches aside from the ones we visit and when we visit we generally visit Nazarenes and their kin.
  2. Of course, I don’t know about YOUR church – maybe people there sing to the top of their lungs.
  3. And, of course, I’m not talking about YOU.  You may be on the Praise Team with a microphone and singing loud and strong throughout the worship service.

Now, with all that out of the way, let me tell you what I’m seeing.  We are pretty much professional church visitors through most of the year.  The worship service in the vast majority of the churches we visit looks and sounds pretty much the same:

  1. There’s a Praise Band: guitar, keyboard, bass, drums – maybe other keyboard instruments (in interest of full disclosure, I play bass guitar whenever I am asked)
  2. There are singers with microphones who sing with energy
  3. The words are on the screen
  4. Everyone is standing anytime there is music being played

So far so good.  We have music being played – generally well played.  We have leaders who are singing out.  We have the words and, most often, a repeatable melody.

But very few people are singing.  Usually, the church leaders are really into it: hands and faces raised in worship.  Scattered around the congregation are others who are singing along.  However, they are the minority.  My most generous estimate is that 1 in 10 worshipers are singing.  Everyone else is just standing there.

Maybe that’s not all bad.  Maybe they are carefully listening to the words, reading them on the screen and being deeply moved by it all.  I don’t know their hearts and I understand that it’s really none of my business.  My business is to be in the moment, turning my thoughts and spirit away from the mundane things of life and focusing on the Lord.

However, my hip starts aching after a while and it starts feeling to me like we’re saying the same words over and over again.  I can’t help but wonder how much longer we’re going linger at this particular stage of worship.

So, I start looking around, being impressed by the sincerity of the folks who are, apparently, really into the worship service.  But I also note that a lot of folks are just standing there like me.

I know I’m one of the senior citizens now and the old people always complain that things used to be better – longing for the good old days.  I don’t want to be one of those people.   I think the point could be made that people just don’t sing any more.  Rather, they go to concerts, stand and listen while people on stage do the singing.  I’m convinced that the concert goers aren’t there for a show, and they really do worship.  Maybe when those concert goers go to church they treat the worship service as another Christian music concert.  They are there to worship but not to sing.

Still, I keep going back to a worship service we attended  in a large church a couple of years ago.  We were near the front, center and, yes, we were standing for the whole song service.  There was a Praise Band and singers with microphones and words on the screens.  There was also a pipe organ and grand piano.  And we were singing a 250 year old Wesley hymn.

The congregation was singing their hearts out.  At first I joined in, singing bass as best I could.  Then I became overwhelmed and had to stop singing.  I just stood there letting the sound of all the voices wash over me.

I miss being part of a congregation that sings like that.

And, by the way, my hip didn’t hurt at all that day.

Pastor, this is real commitment

2014 – Oysterville Historic Church – Near Long Beach, WA (not the church in the story)

I heard a pastor deliver a heartfelt message calling for his congregation to really commit to the church.  He told the church that he had had opportunities to go elsewhere, including a return to his home area to a previous pastorate.  However, he had turned it down because he was committed to this current church.  Then, at the conclusion of the message all those in attendance were invited to join the pastor in his commitment by coming forward as a testimony to their allegiance.

Frankly, there was nothing wrong with any of this.  However, having known many of those laypersons for over 20 years I couldn’t help but smile to myself.  If anyone was qualified to call anyone to real commitment to the local church it was several of those laypersons.  They have already proven themselves faithful.  Several, for a lifetime.  They stayed true to that church through a series of pastors who after a while had declared that the Lord was calling them elsewhere.  They hung in there through some hard times when others moved on to a church down the street.

These were the people who had financially supported the church through the years.  They gave of their time by teaching Sunday School, working in VBS, leading Bible Quiz programs, and showing up for church work days.  They showed up for choir rehearsals and took a turn mowing the church lawn.

Meanwhile, pastors had come and gone.  Some retiring and others just packing up to continue their ministry elsewhere.  Listen, I know that that happens.  I do believe that there comes a time when a person needs to move on in their ministry – often for reasons they, themselves, don’t understand.  Circumstances change and both church and pastor can benefit from a healthy change.  Also, in my own ministry, especially in my younger years, I ran out of gas way too early in more than one assignment.  Happily, and to my credit (I think) my stays got longer as I matured in my ministry.

I also understand that some church people need to make a decision and quit playing church.  Some folks have been around the church for years and are still hanging out in the shallows rather than fully committing to the Lord and his Church.  They need to be challenged to go deeper in their spiritual lives.

Still, as I watched those who are prime examples of commitment and faithfulness respond to that sermon I couldn’t help but think things were the reverse of what they should have been.  It was those people who should have been challenging the pastor to commitment.  They should have been on the platform inviting him to come forward and accept their example.

Or, maybe said better, the good pastor should have told his congregation that the example of many in the congregation had inspired him and, as a result, he was committing to them to join them in their faithfulness.  I really doubt that some of them could be more committed to their church than they already are, and have proven over the decades.

Many churches are full of dedicated people who love their church and continue to sacrifice time, talent, and treasure.  We can only hope for pastors who will join them in that commitment.

Looking for a pastor

My mother was a regular delegate to District Assembly (it’s a Nazarene thing). In the old days, every pastor on the district was required to give a verbal report to the Assembly. Some of the reports were inspiring and some not so much. At some point through the years Mom started “grading” pastors. If she liked the way the pastor reported she would put a mark beside their name. She explained that if it so happened that during the year our church went through a pastoral transition (and it happened a lot during those days – the average pastoral tenure at that time was less than three years) she would use her star system to vet potential candidates.

Honestly, I don’t know that it ever happened that way, but she was ready – just in case.

As I remember her approach I realize that we do something similar with Facebook these days. In the past few years I’ve been involved in a couple of churches going through a change of pastors. Both times, as soon a potential candidate’s name became known a significant number of people headed for Facebook to find out all they could about the candidate.

And, using Facebook in particular and Google in general, you can find out a lot about a person. Some things are really easy to see and others take a bit of digging, but if a person is even marginally Facebook savvy they can learn a lot about someone who posts on Facebook.

I’m not discounting the spiritual in the least here. For years I’ve encouraged church people to see a pastoral search as a spiritual rather than business endeavour. Still, I think church people are probably wise to use this to their advantage, at least in the early part of the process. We all know that resumes don’t tell the whole story. If a pastor is active on Facebook it is easy to get a more candid look at how they interact with people and what interests them when they are “off the clock.” This, I think, can help churches find a good match when they are looking for a new pastor.

Reflections on the second anniversary of my retirement

Wow, retirement anniversary number two.  It was the first Sunday of May, 2013 that we concluded our pastoral ministry and entered into retirement.  In our case, we retired to travel and the very next day we drove off with our RV, starting the next primary chapter of our lives.

This last year has been terrific.  We traveled from Houston to the northwestern corner of the continental United States and then journeyed at a leisurely pace south along the western coast where we enjoyed amazing scenery and cool Pacific Ocean temperatures.  We visited numerous national parks and, in general, had a blast.

Our winter and early spring has been spent doing a variation of our fulltime RVing lifestyle.  We’ve volunteered at the Texas San Jacinto Battleground/Battleship Texas State Historic Park.  In exchange for donating 100 hours of our time each month we’ve enjoyed “free parking.”  That “trade” has saved us some serious, and needed, cash! We’ve thoroughly enjoyed this experience which allowed us to do some very interesting things while being close to family and friends.  While we’re more than ready to begin our travels again we enjoyed the volunteering experience enough that we’ve already signed up to do it again next year.

I did a few more clergy-like things than I did our first year but not a lot.  I filled for our pastor when he was away, filled in for our Sunday School teacher (who happens to be my son) when he was away, did a baby dedication, and finalized my series of books of devotionals.  Aside from that I’ve happily sat in the pew, appreciating the ministry of others.

All in all, we’ve spent over 4 months in the Houston area during this stay.  That means we suspended our “church hopping” ways and settled into a more typical church attendance routine.  While visiting many different churches during our travels is enjoyable we’ve missed the sense of community associated with being a part of a congregation.  This being our second winter as part of our home church helped us feel more a part of things.  It’s interesting to me how things we at first felt were somehow different become, in just a few weeks, just “the way it is done here.”  One thing that become increasingly clear is that no church can be evaluated in just a week or two.  Churches have personalities and that personality isn’t apparent until one is part of the congregation (and involved beyond an hour on Sunday mornings) for a while.  Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy visiting churches, but I know that being a regular, contributing part of a church family is superior.

So, I’d say retirement is going quite well, thank you!  We’re well aware that we are blessed to live this life and we don’t take it for granted.

 

 

Thinking about pastor appreciation

Once again we’re in October, the month set aside in many churches for pastor appreciation.  This is my first October in many years to not be appreciated!  The reason is that I retired last May.  I think this gives me a unique perspective on pastor appreciation month.

Through the years I’ve been blessed in so many wonderful and undeserved ways by the congregations I’ve led.  One of my favorite honors was being given tickets to very good seats at a ball game.  Another year we were given a DVD filled with words of appreciation by members of our congregation.  Of course gift cards and cash are always welcome gifts.

I think pastors with children are especially blessed by being given a night out, including babysitting and the cost of a nice meal together.

Thinking in more general ways about pastoral care I think many pastors need to be encouraged to take some time off.   These days most pastors have spouses who work outside the home.  That means that their household seldom, if ever, gets time off together.  Say the spouse works a Monday-Friday job.  However, the pastor’s busiest days are Saturday and Sunday.  That means they never get a morning to sleep in or enjoy some “us time” around the house.  One way to bless your pastor is to arrange for your parsonage family to enjoy a long weekend once in a while.

Finally, I’ll let you in on a little secret.  Most pastors put a great deal of work into their sermons, Bible studies, etc.  They may not openly admit it, but a lack of interest by their laypeople in this element of their ministry is rather painful.  Pastors notice when ushers receive the offering and then disappear out to the church foyer for the rest of the service (specifically, for the sermon).  They notice when people skip other services, like prayer meetings and Bible studies.  It’s one thing to give the pastor an appreciation card during the month of October and something much better to allow the pastor to minister to you, fulfilling the calling of God on their life.  One of the best ways to show appreciation for your pastor is to show an interest in their ministry.  Stated rather bluntly, if you appreciate the pastor, stop hurting him or her by displaying a lack of interest in their preaching and teaching ministry.

An old preacher’s line is “saying ‘amen’ to a preacher is like saying sik’em to a dog.”  In the context of pastor appreciation I’d say that letting your pastor minister to you and then, after the service, shaking his or her hand and telling them that you appreciated their sermon is where pastor appreciation starts.

How well is your church entrance marked?

One thing we’ve noticed in our months on the road is that church entrances  aren’t especially well marked. I know that people who attend every Sunday don’t think much about it but it’s not always as apparent as they might think.

In one place we managed to walk into the sanctuary but there was no foyer and we found ourselves interrupting a Sunday School class in progress. The locals who don’t attend SS know to enter via the fellowship hall for coffee till church time. Instead, we blundered into the middle of a class. The teacher stopped teaching, everyone turned around, and someone pointed us down the hallway to the official “waiting” area.

In another place we sat out in the parking lot hoping someone would arrive so we could follow them in. There were literally 5 entrances to pick from. Then, once we gave up and guessed (correctly) and were inside, we found that most people parked on the opposite side of the church and used an entrance we hadn’t even seen. I would have sure liked to have used that entrance because it was to a proper foyer. As it was I had to walk across the back of the sanctuary as the service was already underway to go find the men’s room. Everyone seated near the back of the sanctuary watched me as I looked around to spot the proper door to exit to find the hallway most people used when coming and going.

In another place we parked in the first parking lot we saw, walked clear around the building to find some double glass doors and enter. Once inside we saw that the doors we had parked near provided perfectly acceptable entrance to the opposite side of the foyer. However, there were no signs or other indication of that.

Sometimes the entrance is obvious to anyone. Otherwise, I think every church should at least have signs posted on the main sidewalks pointing to the entrance people are expected to use.

Google Voice for Church – and Personal – use

If you phone my wife during the work day her cell phone will ring.  If you call in the evenings, her cell phone and our home phone will ring at the same time.  If she’s at home she can use the home phone, if she’s out of the house, she catches the call on her cell phone.  If you call in the middle of the night her phone(s) may ring, or you may get voicemail, depending on who you are.  When she’s on vacation, if family members call, her cell phone will ring.  However, if others call, they go straight to voicemail.  If someone leaves a voicemail, she gets an email transcription of their voice message.  When someone texts her she can either read and respond to the text from her phone, or if she’s near a computer, she can read it and respond to it on a computer.

Someday she may decide to change cell phone numbers or we may get a new home number (or do away with it all together).  However, all our friends will never know the difference because the number they dial or text to will stay the same.
It’s all done with Google Voice.  Just about everybody should have a Google Voice account.  When you sign up you can pick an available local phone number.  You then configure the account to handle calls and texts as I described above. 
Think of the advantages of this service for a church.  You can customize voicemail based on who is calling, you can listen to voicemail as it’s being entered and answer right then, you can customize what callers are forwarded to what phone(s), and much more.  

And…it’s free! 

More useful tricks with Dropbox

I’ve already written about using Dropbox to put sermon audio online. Here’s another nifty use for Dropbox.

The bulk of our church bulletin is prepared in my home pastor’s study. It is then subject to final editing prior to printing at our church office. I used to update the bulletin and then email my version to the individual who finalizes it and prints it. She would copy it to her thumb drive and then take it to the church to print it.

These days I have separate Dropbox accounts for the church and for myself. Using the “share a folder” feature, I have a church bulletin/newsletter folder which is owned by the church Dropbox account that is shared with my personal Dropbox account.

It’s as simple an arrangement as you can imagine. I open the bulletin, which is in the shared Dropbox folder, put my information in it, save it, and walk away. The church bulletin is automatically updated in both the church office and sanctuary computers. If the bulletin is updated at the church office, it’s the same way. They save it and walk away. It’s automatically updated on the other computers.

The sanctuary computer’s copy of the bulletin is used for setting up announcements, etc. Most of the time it’s just a copy/paste operation from the bulletin to the worship projection software.

Okay, here are the steps:

  1. If you don’t have one yet, get a free DropBox account. Install it on all your personal computers. If you use this link to sign up, you’ll score some additional storage for me.
  2. Now, repeat the process to get a Dropbox account for your church. Install it on the church computers.
  3. Once you’ve installed that, I suggest you update to the latest forum build from this page – This isn’t required but the forum build offers some features you might want to use later on. This is no longer necessary as Dropbox has been updated.
  4. Once you’ve installed Dropbox on the church computers, create a church bulletin folder and share a it with your personal Dropbox account: inside the Dropbox folder, create the new folder, right click on the new folder, pick Dropbox, then share.
  5. Your personal Dropbox will inform you that you’ve been invited to a shared folder. Accept the invitation, put the bulletin file in that folder, along with any other documents, photos, audio files you want to keep in sync between the church and home study computers.

That’s it. Create shortcuts to the bulletin, newsletter, etc. on each computer desktop and they are now automatically synced between the computers.

Note: this is take two on this project. I think this is a more elegant way to accomplish this.

Smoking or non-smoking?

Here’s a West Texas story from around 20 years ago.

A family was traveling out toward the Texas panhandle and dropped in on a Sunday night Nazarene service. The church had no a/c, and with the temps hovering around 100 dry degrees, the evap coolers (otherwise known as “swamp boxes”) were the only hope of even pretending to be comfortable. The visitors arrived a few minutes late and were amused to see around 20 people sitting on the left and only two older ladies sitting on the right side of the sanctuary. The family moved to the side with ample seating and settled in for the service.

In a few minutes they were melting from the heat and realized that the swamp box on their side of the sanctuary wasn’t running. Now they knew why everyone was sitting on the left side of the sanctuary! After the service they visited with the pastor and he apologized for the uncomfortably warm conditions and the visitor said, “What is wrong with the evap cooler on the right side of the sanctuary?”

The answer: “Oh nothing is wrong, but those two dear saints always complain that they get too cold, so we don’t turn it on on that side of the building.” He added, “the church folks call the left side of the sanctuary the ‘heaven side’ and you can guess what they call the side you occupied!”

At the Pearly Gates

On this day there happens to be a backlog at the Pearly Gates. Nothing major, but there’s a line of several hundred people waiting to be processed in.

Once in awhile, there’s a great cheer from those who are close to the front of the line. The folks in the back are not only anxious for their turn to be admitted into heaven, but they are also curious as to what the cheering is about.

The line moves forward and there’s more cheering. “What are they cheering about?” those farther back ask.

Now, they’ve moved forward and there’s a great cheer by those just in front of them. Someone asks the one in front of them, “Did you hear why they’re cheering?”

“Yes,” she says, “Saint Peter says that Sunday nights don’t count.”

“Yeaaaaaa!” the group cheers.